Oregon school board votes to ban Black Lives Matter, Pride signs from district buildings

An Oregon school district voted Tuesday to ban Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ and other “political” signs, flags and articles of clothing from their campuses.

After hearing from a fraction of community members who have opinions on the subject, the Newberg Public Schools board voted 4-3 to keep any sort of political signage out of schools.

The board will later decide what counts as “political,” but Pride flags and BLM messages were repeatedly referenced during the meeting.

Superintendent Joe Morelock said he will have to meet with the district’s lawyers before enforcing the ban.

“I won’t be able to enforce it as it is until we’ve gone through a bunch of legal review,” he said.

School board director and vice chair Brian Shannon, who voted for the measure and added the language about apparel, said the “main goal of this is to get political symbols and divisive symbols out of our schools so we can focus on the already difficult task of educating our students in the core subjects.”

The apparel rule would only apply to staff while they are working.

Board member Brandy Penner countered that the top five performing schools in the state had diversity coordinators and diversity statements, while the districts that were struggling educationally have a “lack of anything to do with equity.”

“This feels so draconian … this feels so anti-everything,” Penner said. “Anti-free speech, anti-free expression, anti-safety.”

Board member Ines Peña also pointed out that students weren’t given enough of a say in the decision, even though they and their parents have shared stories detailing discrimination and feeling unsafe.

“The quality of some of the stories that we heard should count more than just the number of emails that we received,” said Peña, who was wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt and rainbow headband during the virtual meeting. “And I feel like that’s not being heard. The students are not being heard.”

The board was also expected to work on “replacement language” for the district’s anti-racism policy and consider re-examining the Oregon Department of Education’s “Every Student Belongs” policy, which, in part, “prohibits hate symbols, specifically three of the most recognizable symbols of hate in the U.S. —the swastika, the Confederate flag, and the noose.”

The two agenda items were pushed to a meeting later in August. The board is also expected to discuss challenging the state’s mask mandate at their next meeting.

State Rep. Ricki Ruiz said he was “disappointed by the actions taken from Newberg School Directors to ban pride and BLM flags from schools, and their attempts to roll back on anti-racist school policies such as the Every Student Belongs policy.”

“Policies such as ESB are in place to ensure students feel welcome and safe while learning,” he said. “Our children should not bear the brunt end of partisan politics meant to further divide. Every student belongs in school, every student deserves to learn in a welcoming, and safe environment.

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