The Newberg School District’s controversial ban on “political” symbols remains in place and continues to be the center of discussion among school board members. At a meeting on Wednesday, the board was forced to face the legality of the ban which includes Black Lives Matter and pride flags. The ban covers clothing and symbols with political affiliation of any kind, on any school district property. There is an exception for the American and Oregon state flag.
Board chair Dave Brown said when the ban was first approved last month, “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.”
Since the ban was approved by the board last month, it’s been met with backlash from students, parents, community members, local elected officials, state lawmakers, the ACLU and more. Numerous groups have pledged to fight the ban in court.
At Wednesday’s school board meeting, members considered a resolution to rescind the bans, but didn’t approve it, instead putting off further discussion until later this month.
What students think
Three students from the district joined Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud on Thursday. Ruth Hyland is a senior at Catalyst Alternative High School. Hyland, a member of the gender and sexuality alliance, said when the school board majority first approved the ban last month, it didn’t completely surprise her.
“I’ve been keeping up with the school board a lot, so I know who had been elected and what their ideals were,” Hyland said. “So I didn’t exactly expect them to support the GSA or its members in this way.”
Newberg High School junior Alexus Small is a junior who helped found the Black student union last year. Small was similarly expecting some backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I was surprised, but at the same time I knew that something was going to happen to help tear down the Black community in a sense,” Small said. “I think that people... during the Black Lives Matter protests and everything, were more open to saying that they don’t support this, and they don’t support the things that we were for and we were doing.”
Katia Pender is another member of the Black Student Union at Newberg High. She’s just starting her freshman year next week.
“It was pretty hard for me to think about starting school with all this conflict and anger around the situation,” Pender said.
All three students agreed allowing the symbols let’s marginalized students know they are supported by teachers, staff and peers.
“It means a lot,” Pender said. " It’s nice to know who your safe people are. And without any show of support or symbol it’s hard to tell. So, I think that having the signs in the schools was a good idea to show students who their safe people are. "
Before the ban, students and staff were allowed to display their support of Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQA+ community.
“I think the only flags that we’ve had in the schools in Newberg have been the pride flags, which is really good because the students can see that this person is supportive of the LGBT plus community, so I can go and talk to them and tell them how I feel,” Small said. “As far as the Black Lives Matter flags, this all happened when we were going into the hybrid [learning model] and I was still online. So I don’t know whether or not they put Black Lives Matter flags into schools.”
Hyland says that removing pride flags feels like a way to marginalize the LGBTQ community at school. .
“I don’t know if this is just a really big move to push me back in the closet,” Hyland said. “It feels like it.”
Move to rescind ban put off Wednesday
With threats of legal action, the school board was asked to vote on a measure Wednesday to rescind the ban, pending revision of the ban. The district’s legal counsel has said the ban is not legally enforceable.
A long pause followed before board member Brandy Penner seconded the motion.
“Our policies are based on law and this [the ban] would be, to my current understanding, illegal.” Penner said.
Before a vote was made, board member Brian Shannon made a motion to table the decision to rescind the flag ban. He argued that despite the legal counsel’s advice and pending lawsuits, he believes the ban is legal.
“I think it can legally be enforced, and it’s the expressed will of the board as it has passed it, and I think it will remain that way until we replace it,” Shannon said.
Shannon added that with the next meeting taking place on Sept. 14, the current ban would be rescinded before any legal action made it into the court.
The motion to table the vote on rescinding the ban passed 4 to 3, meaning the ban stays in place until the next vote.
Hyland said the result of the board meeting didn’t surprise her.
“I expect them to keep putting it off, tabling the removal of the ban,” Hyland said. “What they did was say, ‘we’ll vote on it next time’ and I think they’re just going to keep doing that as long as possible.”
Pender was not pleased that the ban was kept in place with schools about to open..
“I would ask them why they’ve decided to do this,” Pender said.” And I would want to know their reasoning, but I would explain to them how much it means in a school as a student of color to see something that is saying ‘we support you’ by your teachers.
Some people in the community protested the ban by displaying a pride flag near the high school. Small said knowing people in the community and beyond are fighting to end the ban is reassuring.
“It’s meant a lot,” Small said. “I feel like seeing both the LGBTQ and the Black community come together, it makes me so happy because I can see that people are actually willing to help us. Whether the outcome is bad or it’s good, they’re willing to stand with us no matter what. "