Newberg anti-racism resolution debate, latest in a series of school board cultural battles

Steps taken by the Newberg School Board to erase an anti-racist resolution from its books and ban “political symbols,” including pride flags and “Black Lives Matter” posters, have divided its ranks and drew reprimands from the public. Black, Native, and other colored Oregon legislators.

A newly seated Conservative majority is also considering an overhaul of a state-mandated anti-bias policy passed in 2020. Critics say the measures, at least, would rob marginalized students, staff and faculty from Newberg schools.

At worst? They could lead to a loss of state funding.

“The school district has gone to great lengths to truly recognize the trauma and pain our students of color and queer students have faced, historically,” said Brandy Penner, board member. “It erases that. And why?”

The Exurban Wrestling is the latest episode to illustrate how the loaded national discourse on racial equity and social justice has infiltrated Oregon school board politics.

Last summer, the board passed an anti-racism resolution at the height of protests against police brutality and systemic racism in Portland and other cities in Oregon. Board member Brian Shannon, who now wishes to rescind the resolution, proposed at the time to pass it.

And in December, the board passed a policy known as “all students belong,” which aims to fight discrimination in schools and outlaw hate symbols, explicitly calling for nooses, swastikas and the flag. confederate.

Shannon maintains that he was adopted outside of the normal council process. He was elected in 2019 and said he wanted to overturn the policy to test it.

“If you want this policy to be on the books, it has to be enacted properly through the rules of procedure,” Shannon said.

He argued with other board members and Superintendent Joe Morlock over the details of political language during the December deliberations. Shannon asked who would decide what constitutes a symbol of hate and argued that the swastika ban discriminates against Hindu students.

Now Shannon is also pushing for the district to ban what she claims to be political symbols.

He argues that the pride flag falls into this category because he has heard from several Newberg families who “disagree with the gender ideology that the flag represents.”

“These families deserve to feel on an equal footing with families who agree with this ideology,” Shannon said.

The United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled against discrimination against gay and transgender people, and this year dismissed an appeal challenging the Dallas School District’s toilet policies, leaving the gender identity debate on a legal basis. precarious.

Shannon’s resolution would ban schools from displaying anything but the flags of the United States and Oregon. Chairman of the Board, Dave Brown, said he supported the idea because he saw the Pride and “Black Lives Matter” banners as distractions.

“We are doing ourselves a disservice by going back to the color card. I don’t like it, ”he said.

Brown told The Oregonian / OregonLive that he believes principals should hold assemblies on the first day of class to tell students to treat each other with respect.

“From now on, every human you come in contact with, we’re going to treat them very well,” he said. “We’re going to be focusing on each really really great person whenever we’re around them.”

Penner says this approach overlooks the reality of student life.

“If I have a colleague who is a person of color, I should understand that their experience is different,” she said.

The Newberg district has approximately 4,400 students. The majority, about 70%, are white. And 22% are Latinos.

From 2015 to 2019, Latino students graduated at a rate of about 2-3 percentage points lower than the district average. In 2020, 79% of Latino high school students in Newberg graduated in four years, compared to 85% of the broader student body.

Penner also said he heard gay students and people living below the poverty line say they regularly face bullying at school. And she argues that allowing educators to display pride flags not only shows children who they can speak to with their problems, but also gives students the opportunity to ask teachers for their beliefs.

“They can walk into the classroom without a flag and ask the teacher why they’re not hanging one up,” Penner said. “Then it’s a conversation. And if we don’t model that, we’re not doing our job. “

Renee Powell, a local artist and one of the new members of the Newberg School Board, said at the July reunion that, like Shannon, she had heard from families concerned about the Black Lives Matter banners in the halls of the school.

“It means different things to different people,” said Powell.

The council voted unanimously to table questions until mid-August after the secretary of the council scuttled a referendum at the July meeting, telling members they cannot evoke and vote on the policy at the same meeting.

To say that Newberg’s school board races have become highly politicized is perhaps an understatement. Such races attracted an average of around 4,000 voters from 2009 to 2019. In 2021, nearly 7,800 ballots were cast.

As in many other Oregon communities, the reopening of schools, along with sometimes coded racial signage, dominated discourse in Newberg ahead of Election Day. In Newberg, a group calling themselves “Save Our Schools” supported the three Conservative candidates.

“There is work to be done. Obviously, no neighborhood is perfect, ”said Penner. “But what exactly are we saving our students from? “

The state has largely reduced its role in reopening decisions in mid-May.

And in the weeks after her new colleagues sat down, Penner said she heard more and more voters say that the pride flags and Black Lives Matter banners were distracting from the main charge. of Newberg District to teach students.

“No one is saying that because we say ‘black lives matter’ or because we say ‘queer lives are important’ we’re not going to do math right now,” Penner said.

The Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus in the Oregon Legislature said in a statement that the state-mandated All-Student Membership policy was to “protect children in the classroom,” adding its concerns about school board policy in recent elections.

“What is happening in Newberg shows the importance of running and voting in local elections across the country,” caucus members wrote. “Nationally, we are seeing a trend for school boards to revoke protections against racism and discrimination. This is unacceptable.”

The Newberg School Board will meet to discuss the Anti-Racism Resolution, All Student Belonging Policy, and Shannon’s proposed flag policy on August 10.

–Eder Campuzano | 503-221-4344 | @edercampuzano | Eder on Facebook

Eder is the Oregonian education reporter. Do you have a tip about Portland public schools? E-mail [email protected].

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