The board of the Newberg Oregon School District has voted to ban Pride and Black Lives Matter flags as well as any “political” signs, clothing, and other items. The ban will only apply to district staff and faculty, not to students.
On Tuesday, the board voted four to three in favor of the ban. The board also created a three-member policy committee to define what messages and images might constitute a “political” speech. District superintendent Joe Morelock has said that district lawyers will examine the ban’s free speech implications before it’s officially instated.
“As a school board, it’s our job to make decisions that are going to be there for every single kid at Newberg High School, not just the kids that are represented in just one group. It has to be all kids,” said school board chair Dave Brown. Supporters of the ban said the signs were “divisive” and made some students feel less valued.
However, Newberg school counselor Joshua Reid said that he and the district’s 15 other counselors signed a letter asking the school board to vote against the ban.
“When [Black and LGBTQ] students enter our schools and see the symbols that we mean to communicate love and support and affirmation, they don’t see propaganda or indoctrination or any ideology. They see a glimmer of hope that there can still be safe places and safe people in their schools,” Reid told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).
OPB noted that the district’s ban goes against statewide efforts by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to show support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and LGBTQ students.
In June 2020, ODE published a “success plan” for LGBTQ students. The plan sought to increase LGBTQ inclusivity and attendance while reducing anti-LGBTQ bullying, harassment, and assaults. Some of the ODE’s recommendations included LGBTQ cultural training for all faculty as well as the use of gender-neutral restrooms, safe-space posters, and anti-bullying policies.
In October 2020, the ODE also published a letter, signed by several statewide educators’ organizations, expressing support for BLM, BLM symbols in classrooms, and anti-racist education.
“Our support for the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racist training, and the teaching of the sometimes violent and racist history of the U.S. are not intended to generate guilt or shame for white students and communities,” the letter said. “We must commit to an anti-racist stance and to doing better for Black students, families, and educators.”
The 22,068-person population of Newberg, Oregon is 87.5 percent white and 0.4 percent Black.