PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Newberg School District is responding to a judge’s decision about political and quasi-political symbols in classrooms.
As reported on Sept. 23, a 2021 decision by the Newberg School District Board of Directors to ban all political signage, including Black Lives Matter signs and LGBTQ Pride flags from its schools, was deemed unconstitutional by the Yamhill County Circuit Court. The court said it violated the part of the Oregon constitution that guarantees freedom of speech.
In a statement sent to KOIN 6 News on Friday afternoon, the district’s board of directors says it is considering inviting the teacher’s union and the ACLU to the table to discuss ways to make schools safe and welcoming for all students.
The board also says more updates on the ruling are still to come.
Read the full statement below:
“The Newberg School Board is in the process of carefully collecting all pertinent information regarding Judge Easterday’s verbal ruling on the School Board GBG Policy. We understand the urgency for a public statement, but also respect the gravity of any decisions we make pertaining to our next steps, which is why we are taking some time to ensure we are intentional, conscientious, and fully cognizant of our words and actions. Our job as a school board is to make decisions that will bring about the best results for every child in our district. Newberg-Dundee parents have elected us to be the gate-keepers of their public schools. Because we take this responsibility earnestly, we are being extra assiduous as we proceed forward. In an effort to be fully transparent, we are ready to give the public an update on where we are with this ruling, as well as what our next steps will be. However, before we do, we must set the record straight about some claims being made by a prior Newberg School Board member and Newberg community members.
“First, media outlets have printed the claim that the School Board has spent somewhere between $500,000 and $1M of taxpayer money on legal fees. This is not true. The correct amount of money spent on School Board legal fees is approximately $125,000. This money was spent in response to a lawsuit that was initiated not by the school board, but by the teachers union and the ACLU. In light of these circumstances, the School Board was left with no choice but to secure legal representation. Also, please be reminded that Newberg residents were forced to pay roughly $85,000 for a recall attempt that was not successful. We’re looking at almost $200,000 in taxpayer money that was spent unnecessarily on legal and politically motivated battles, rather than on academic endeavors. The School Board board does not condone this irresponsible use of school funding, and are working hard to arrive at a resolution, so that we can focus on our students and their education.
“Second, the claim that the creation and implementation of the GBG policy was politically motivated, and directed at the LGBTQIA+ community is also false. This policy was written as a means of protecting students from being influenced by the political and social opinions of educators. It was put in place so that classrooms would remain a neutral, safe place where students from all walks of life are welcome, and where academic learning is the focus. The policy also protects students from acts of hate and violence that could occur as the result of over-focus on quasi-political issues. Ultimately, Newberg School Board’s collective desire for every child to feel welcome, safe and wanted in their classroom, while receiving a high-quality education, is the true motivation behind the creation of the GBG policy.
“Third, the claim that the Newberg School Board will appeal Judge Easterday’s decision, even going so far as to take this case to the Supreme Court, is also false. The School Board wants what is best for the school district, and is willing to discuss how to best navigate through the ramifications of this ruling. Judge Easterday referenced Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution in her ruling:
“‘No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.‘
“This ruling will allow teachers to hang pride flags and BLM flags in their classrooms. It could also possibly open the doors for teachers with differing political, social, and religious opinions, to display potentially controversial signage and paraphernalia in their classrooms. We see a high risk for conflict and divisive behavior, which would ultimately put our students in a position where they are not safe. We are confident that most Newberg citizens will agree that keeping our students safe should be the top priority of the School Board. With that said, we are considering inviting the teacher’s union and the ACLU to the table to discuss how we can work together to ensure that our schools remain safe and welcoming, and most importantly, a place where all students are learning and thriving.
“This is the first of many updates that the Newberg School Board will be giving on this subject. We welcome any questions you have. Sincerely, The Newberg Public Schools Board of Directors.”
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story as it develops.