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Eder Campuzano / (TNS)

Newberg teachers can now be reported for displaying Black Lives Matter or Pride flags in their classrooms.

The conservative majority in the school board voted on Tuesday to approve a controversial policy prohibiting educators from displaying symbols considered “political, quasi-political or controversial.”

The 4-3 vote came hours after district educators rallied around the ordinance, which has attracted sharp criticism – and national attention – since vice-chair Brian Shannon, l ‘presented in July.

It also follows a pair of racist incidents at district schools.

State lawmakers have spoken out against the policy, and the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern that the policy could lead potential visitors to boycott Newberg businesses.

The conservative majority on the board argued that the banners introduced political distractions into what should be neutral learning environments.

Shannon told The Oregonian / OregonLive in August that the Pride banners fall into this category because he has heard from several Newberg families who “don’t agree with the gender ideology that the flag represents.”

Shannon and Board member Trevor DeHart called the policy “harmless”.

“We need to get back to education,” said board chairman Dave Brown.

Board member Brandy Penner countered, saying adopting the policy would only attract more scrutiny and added that “people will become more entrenched.”

She also said it could inspire more protests in Newberg that would draw extremists to the city – on Sunday, a group of Proud Boys gathered in the Yamhill County community to rally in support of its passage.

Board member Rebecca Piros asked if an educator would not be allowed to post a photo of themselves posing with their same-sex partner if it drew a complaint.

“If it was bloated and placed over the entire side of the classroom, I guess someone could make that point,” Shannon said.

Penner and Piros continued to suggest hypotheses and objected to the implementation of the policy.

“We know this policy is a wreck when it comes to putting it into practice,” Penner said.

Superintendent Joe Morelock said the district would struggle to apply the policy consistently across all of its schools.

“I think the difficulty is that we have different people in different buildings taking these complaints. The problem is going to be to get consistency between what is good and what is not, ”said Morelock.

He later mentioned that politics could invite complaints for wearing face masks in district schools, adding that the clothing is a political lightning rod.

Penner also called on board members Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart, both of whom were silent in previous public policy discussions, to explain their positions.

“There were a lot of votes without explanation,” Penner said.

DeHart said he believes the policy simply codifies state law into district policy. Powell lamented the obvious divisions within the community in recent months and said that while some children from marginalized communities have been bullied, board members should be sympathetic, even to those who are. disciplined during these incidents.

Powell added that she believes pushing to comfort some students may alienate others.

“It’s not fair to the other kids on the other side,” she said. “They are marginalized whether you like it or not. “

Critics say the ban risks alienating students who are more likely to be bullied and experience mental health crises than their peers.

The Trevor Project found in a 2021 survey that three-quarters of students who identify as LGBTQ have experienced discrimination in school. At a Newberg school board meeting scheduled for public comment on September 22, gay and transgender teens shared their experiences in this regard.

They also accused the board of politicizing the identity of the students.

“I am not political. I’m human, ”said Midas Jenkins, senior at Newberg Catalyst High School.

Students and educators in the district were unanimous in their opposition to the policy at the time and in previous meetings. The supporters were usually parents or longtime graduates of Newberg High. A man joined the virtual meeting from McMinnville.

Public testimony was distributed fairly evenly between the two camps during the meeting. But the Newberg Graphic reported that critics outnumbered 2-to-1 supporters according to tapes it got of the total number of requests for comment.

The conservative majority on the board has also at times worked to accelerate the development and adoption of the policy against the protests of their three dissenting members.

Conservative board members introduced and voted on a resolution to hire Canby’s attorney, Tyler Smith, for a “second opinion” on the directive without providing the public with the 24-hour notice required by law. ‘Oregon in late August.

At the end of September, board members presented the policy for a first reading, but did not actually read it aloud before advancing it to Tuesday’s session.

Voting en bloc, the four Tory members also rejected Piros’ suggestion that Morelock appoint a panel of students, teachers, parents and community members to assess the policy and propose changes over the next six. month.

Piros, students, and teachers at various times said few or no educators hung the identity-affirming banners in their classrooms in the first place.

“What is the problem that we are trying to solve? She said then.

Piros again offered to convene this committee, this time adding that the panel should consist of two board members and six faculty members. This time, however, the body would only meet for six weeks.

“It will show that you are an empathetic and collaborative leader and that you can build consensus through this action. It gives us a chance to come out of this turmoil that we have been through, ”said Piros.

The conservative majority again rejected the idea. Brown said the process had already been “dragged out”.

“I don’t want to drag this process out five or six more minutes, let alone six weeks,” Shannon said.

The controversy surrounding the development of policy is emblematic of a larger trend for school boards to become a flashpoint for culture wars across Oregon and much of the country.

The Newberg teachers’ union has signaled plans to sue the school board over the policy, which the Conservative majority tried to correct by rewriting it with Smith’s help.

In its first version, the policy was a draft directive for Morelock to remove identity-affirming symbols from district schools.

Morelock, citing the Oregon School Boards Association district attorney and attorney boards, said he would not adopt an illegal policy.

The proposed policy now exempts notice boards in school desks and buttons or pins affirming educators’ support for their union. It also allows educators to display such symbols if they are part of a lesson.

These amendments did not stem the tide of criticism.

The Southridge High School girls’ soccer team knelt during the national anthem ahead of their game against Newberg to protest the proposed policy. The Tigard football team also knelt in an anti-intolerance proclamation before facing the Newberg Tigers on Saturday as fans draped the Black Lives Matter and Pride banners over the grandstand railings.