Oregon education leaders join calls for Newberg school board to reverse ban on BLM, pride flags
Add the Oregon State Board of Education to the growing list of local and state groups speaking out against recent actions by the Newberg school board, which is considering a policy that would ban staff from displaying Black Lives Matter and pride clothes or flags in the Willamette Valley district’s schools.
The state board passed a resolution Thursday calling on Oregon’s school districts to create safe spaces for students, directly calling out the Newberg school board, asking its members to “reverse course” and “validate that student identities are not inherently political or controversial, but welcomed and affirmed.”
“Equity does not mean that one side gets ignored or favored. It is quite the opposite: We have a responsibility to create and maintain humane, livable spaces for children who have consistently lived on the brink of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion,” Guadalupe Martinez-Zapata, vice chair of the Oregon State Board of Education, said in a press release Thursday.
“A minimal demonstration of that humanity, a flag, a banner, a sign, is all it could take for a student to feel safe. Each student is unique, and every one deserves our love and care.”
Oregon’s top education official, Colt Gill, also spoke against the Newberg school board’s recent action to prohibit displays of Black Lives Matter and pride flags, as well as political symbols.
“Student identity should be supported and celebrated, and we must recognize the unique needs and perspectives that our students bring,” Gill said.
The ban was approved in an initial vote, but Newberg school board members have not yet formally enacted the policy that has drawn attention, now formally called the “Ensuring Safe Environments to Learn” policy. It will have a second reading, with a possible vote at a special board meeting Sept. 28, according to the most recent board meeting brief. In a message last Friday, after the policy went through revisions by the board’s policy committee, the school district included a brief message.
“Newberg Public Schools cannot enact policies that, according to district counsel, likely violate state and federal law,” read part of the message.
In the past, the board had discussed changing or rescinding the district’s anti-racism and “Every Student Belongs” policy, but neither appears on the board’s most recent list of upcoming agenda topics.
Joe Morelock, Newberg’s superintendent, shared a message with the district community Wednesday, speaking to specific incidents involving students and staff, as well the recent attention on the school district in general.
“We will not lose our focus on educating and supporting our students,” Morelock said. “We know that the students in our district are also capable of caring for each other and creating a ‘home’ environment in our schools. When harmful actions are surfaced and the traumatic impacts of those actions are recognized, we all, students and adults, can work toward improving the environment and the supports for each person, no matter their identity.”
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