A school board in Newberg, Oregon, where a teacher was recently fired after appearing at school in blackface to protest a vaccine requirement for staff, voted on Tuesday to ban educators from displaying “political” symbols like Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols on school grounds.
The controversial ban paves the way for teachers in the district to be reported for displaying Black Lives Matter or Pride flags in their classrooms. It comes after a series of racist incidents in the school district in recent weeks. At Newberg High School, students were busted earlier this month for posting photos of Black classmates in a mock slave trade chat on social media where they discussed how much they would pay to take them as slaves in an auction. Kids in the chat also commented “All Blacks should die” and “Let's have another Holocaust,” according to KGW.
Then, a special education assistant at Mabel Rush Elementary School, Lauren Pefferle, showed up to school after darkening her face in iodine and suggesting that she had hoped to portray Rosa Parks in defiance of a COVID vaccine mandate.
“I feel segregated because I am unvaccinated,” Pefferle later told conservative radio host Lars Larson in an interview. After admitting that she had applied “darker skin makeup” to her face, hands and other parts of her body, she insisted that she “never once thought of the word blackface because I honestly don’t even know that term. I don't know what people mean by that and I don't use that language.”
Pefferle was put on administrative leave after the school district condemned the move, and was fired on Sept. 24, according to The Newberg Graphic.
“We need to get moving back towards education,” Board Chair Dave Brown said on Tuesday night as he sided with the board’s conservative majority in a 4-3 vote in favor of the ban. “We’ve been derailed for quite a while.”
Brown, along with Vice-Chair Brian Shannon and board directors Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart, had consistently rallied for the ban.
As tensions in the national debate over critical race theory boiled over this summer, the Newberg School Board directed the district’s superintendent Joe Morelock to ban Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride displays on Aug. 10.
An uproar from the community and state legislators, as well as the threat of legal challenges from opponents, led the board to reconsider the ban during a Sept. 1 meeting. But the board ultimately opted to introduce more vague language rather than ditching the ban altogether, deleting direct references to Black Lives Matter and Pride symbols, and instead barring the display of “political, quasi-political or controversial” symbols.
“For purposes of this policy a political or quasi-political topic includes contemporary issues being debated in the local, state or national political climate,” a copy of the updated policy states.
Powell appeared to suggest that although students from marginalized communities have been bullied, kids “on the other side” are being subject to another kind of marginalization.
“That’s not fair to the other kids on the other side,” she said, according to The Oregonian. “They’re being marginalized whether you want to see it or not.”
Shannon and DeHart called the policy “innocuous,” according to The Oregonian, with Shannon telling the outlet last month that he’d heard from several Newberg families who don’t “agree with the gender ideology that [the Pride] flag represents.”
The board’s decision on Tuesday follows similar actions in other states as a national battle unfolds over how race and racism are handled in the classroom.
A northern Utah school district said last week that it would prohibit teachers from displaying Pride and Black Lives Matter flags in classrooms and school facilities. Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams told the Salt Lake Tribune that the policy was intended to ensure schools remained “neutral” on so-called culture war topics.
Shannon, who has been the subject of a recall effort over his efforts to rally against more inclusionary policies to counter discrimination, expressed a similar posture on Tuesday.
“We don’t pay our teachers to push their political views on our students, that is not their place. Their place is to teach the approved curriculum, and that is all this policy does is ensure that that is happening in our schools,” he said, according to video from the virtual meeting shared by KGW.
On Sunday, a group of roughly a dozen Proud Boys rallied in support of the ban as protestors wielding Black Lives Matter and Pride flags gathered in opposition to the policy.
Board member Brandy Penner on Tuesday accused the board’s conservative wing of using the policy to deepen division in the wake of the Proud Boys’ display.
“I think the point of this is to show that you are trying to sow division with extremist views. You have no interest in listening to the community,” Penner said.