The Newberg school board has tabled the motion to rescind its August ban of pride and Black Lives Matter flags on its campuses. Newly elected conservative board members set about in July to reverse inclusive and anti-racist policies. But the extreme action drew national media attention, threats of lawsuits and community backlash. School board members came to a 4-3 vote to table on the Sept. 1 meeting as they await official language on the ban from the district’s policy committee. The four conservative members still face possible repercussions for taking actions in violation of open meeting laws, including hiring a “supplemental attorney” in connection with the policy. We get reactions to the board’s actions from three students as they prepare to start school next week. Ruth Hyland is a senior at Catalyst alternative high school and a member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. Newberg High School junior Alexus Small helped found the Black Student Union last year, and freshman Katia Pender is a member of said group.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Last month, the Newberg school board approved a ban on Black Lives Matter signs and Pride flags as well as any broadly “political” signs, clothing and other items. It’s up to a board committee to determine what is political and what is not. Then came a backlash from students, parents, community members, local elected officials, state lawmakers, the ACLU and more. They said the board was creating a hostile environment with destructive actions. Numerous groups have pledged to fight the ban in court, but at a special session yesterday evening, the board chose not to rescind the ban. I’m joined now by three students from the district. Ruth Hyland is a senior at Catalyst Alternative High School and a member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. Alexus Small is a junior at Newberg High School who helped found the Black Student Union last year. And Katia Pender is another member of the Black Student Union. She’s just starting her freshman year at the high school next week. Welcome to Think Out Loud to all three of you.
Ruth Hyland: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Dave Miller: Ruth Hyland, first. What was your first reaction to the ban last month?
Ruth Hyland: I was surprised, but at the same time I wasn’t because I didn’t expect something of that scale to happen, but I don’t know, it’s just such a broad move.
Dave Miller: Let’s take those two parts: that you were surprised, but you weren’t. What didn’t surprise you about the news?
Ruth Hyland: I’ve been keeping up with the school board a lot. So I kind of saw who had been elected and what their ideals were. So, I didn’t exactly expect them to support the S.A. or its members in this way.
Dave Miller: The Gender Sexuality Alliance, which is broadly a group of queer students who came together not that long ago. Alexus Small, what about you? You’re a junior at Newberg High School, as I mentioned, and one of the founders of the Black Student Union there. What was your first reaction to the ban last month?
Alexus Small: Mine was right along with Ruth’s. I was surprised, but at the same time I knew that something was gonna happen to help tear down the Black community in a sense.
Dave Miller: Why? Why did you think something like that was going to happen?
Alexus Small: I think that people were a little more openly, 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. So I think that was going to come out,
especially in the schools with the students.
Dave Miller: Can you give us a sense for how the board’s decision affected you personally?
Alexus Small: Yeah, it affected me personally because I feel like, right when I found at least one staff member in the school to really help me through things, that kind of just pushed that away? Because now I don’t know whether I could trust that person or not, and it hurts my family as well, because I have two younger siblings that have to still go through the school system, so I’m scared for them.
Dave Miller: Who are going to have longer. You just have two years left, but you’re saying younger siblings will be in the system for a longer period of time?
Alexus Small: Right.
Dave Miller: When you say you’ve finally had support, it felt, from one adult in the school and now you’re not sure. What do you mean?
Alexus Small: I mean that when I had a problem, sometimes I would take it up with a teacher if the teacher was present during that problem, but if I feel like they’re not going to do anything, then I would go to that staff member that I felt really understood and got my point of view, and then she would help take that up with my mom, myself and that teacher or whoever else I was in the predicament with.
Dave Miller: And now you’re not sure that that teacher will be able to step in because of the ban that still stands on things like Black Lives Matter flags, or Pride flags. You’re not sure that you’ll be able to get support.
Alexus Small: Right.
Dave Miller: What kinds of issues have come up in the past, where you would turn to your teacher or other staff members for help?
Alexus Small: I had an incident in a history class where a student had said the ‘n’ word, and the teacher that heard it just sent him outside for like three seconds and then brought him right back in and that was the end of that. And I had then brought it up with that staff member and then that staff member said that she would take it up with somebody else and I think I heard a little bit about it after that, but then nothing else, I think it was said like he didn’t mean it or he was joking and then everything else was quiet.
Dave Miller: How do you wish that situation had been handled?
Alexus Small: I wish that they would have let me also talk to the student to just share my point of view because I feel like he wasn’t understanding it, especially when he was sent outside and not told that this is wrong. You don’t do that as an adult.
Dave Miller: And what would you have told him?
Alexus Small: I would have said that there are things that you definitely don’t say in public, especially with a Black person that was sitting right next to you. You really have to watch what you say because it can affect somebody way differently than you’re thinking it can.
Dave Miller: Katia Pender, as I mentioned, is with us as well, going to be starting next week when school in Newberg starts, a freshman at the high school and also a member of the Black Student Union. Katia, what was your first reaction when you heard about this ban on these flags and symbols last month?
Katia Pender: Like Alexus and Ruth said, it wasn’t super shocking that it caused conflict, bringing in these signs, but it was pretty hard for me to think about starting school with all this conflict and anger around the situation.
Dave Miller: What has it meant to you to see symbols of Pride or anti-racism, either in your school, if you saw them in your middle school or now around the community?
Katia Pender: Yeah, it means a lot. 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.
Dave Miller: Alexus, can you give us a sense for how prominently displayed and how common these signs have been? I mean, I feel like it’s helpful for us to understand what the ban actually means. If the point of the ban is to get rid of these signs, how prominent have they been in the past?
Alexus Small: I think the only flags that we’ve had up in the schools in Newberg have been the Pride flags, which is really good because the students can see that okay, this person is supportive of the LGBT+ community, so I can go and talk to them and tell them how I feel, but as far as the Black Lives Matter flags, this all happened when we were going into the hybrid and I was still online. So I don’t know whether or not they put Black Lives Matter flags into schools. But if it wasn’t there, it would be really helpful for Black students to realize, okay, this teacher is a safe person to talk to and they want to know and understand how I feel when something bad or discriminative happens to me.
Dave Miller: Ruth Hyland, as I mentioned, you’re a member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. What would it mean to you? What did it mean to you to see a Pride flag, say, on the door of a classroom?
Ruth Hyland: It means a lot. And it’s funny, I’m not actually very out. Like I don’t, most of my teachers, most of my friends don’t know about my sexuality and such. I don’t really talk about it. But it’s like that concept that even if they don’t know, it would be okay if they did. And I don’t know if this is just a really big move to push me back in the closet, it feels like.
Dave Miller: I’m curious how you made the decision personally to even talk on this radio show right now. I mean you’re saying that many of your fellow classmates or teachers don’t know about your sexuality. Yet you’ve made the decision to join us today. Why is that?
Ruth Hyland: Well, it’s kind of because all those people don’t know, it’s, I don’t want the people affected by this. I know Black students, people know that Black students are affected, but sometimes if you don’t know anybody who’s LGBT or LGBT+, it can feel far away and I guess I want people to know that it’s not just hypothetical, somebody’s out there. It’s like your students, your friends, your neighbors, it’s real people and yeah, I guess it, I don’t know, even if it’s hard and a little scary, it’s important. It’s important to me.
Dave Miller: Alexus, we’ve been focusing a lot on the ban and the school board’s decision. All these votes in the last couple weeks have been 4-3, with a new conservative majority representing those four votes. But another big thing that’s happened in response to this ban over the last couple weeks is, is a big community outcry pushback against the board’s decision. What have those community protests, the community pushback, what has that meant to you?
Alexus Small: It’s meant a lot. 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, they’re willing to help us, whether the outcome is bad or it’s good. They’re willing to stand with us no matter what.
Dave Miller: So as I mentioned, we’re talking today, a day after the latest board meeting leading up to last night. There had been speculation because a resolution was on the agenda to rescind the ban that the board would do that. But once again by a vote of 4-3, the board kept the ban in place. It sets up what seems to be a pretty confusing situation. The board is asking the Superintendent to go forward with enforcing the ban. But the Superintendent has said that the district’s own lawyers have told him that this ban goes against the law. Ruth Hyland, what are you expecting next?
Ruth Hyland: A lot of fighting. It’s, I mean the board’s been in conflict for a while and it’s hard to watch. But I think they’re gonna, I mean honestly I expect them to keep putting it off, tabling the ban, or the removal of the ban, like what they did was say, we’ll go down it next time and I think they’re just gonna keep doing that as long as possible. And I don’t know what kind of policy you could make that would allow you to do this. But I mean I’m sure they’ll try.
Dave Miller: Katia Pender, If you were talking specifically to the four members of the board who voted to put this ban in place and voted to not take this ban away yesterday and if they were really listening to you, what would you tell them?
Katia Pender: First, I would ask them why they’ve decided to do this. 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.
Dave Miller: And Alexus Small, you are starting your junior year of high school next week in person. What are you afraid of and looking forward to as the year is about to start?
Alexus Small: Well, actually, I’m going in online.
Dave Miller: You are. I didn’t realize that.
Alexus Small: Yes, I am.
Dave Miller: Why is that?
Alexus Small: I’m trying to keep my family safe. At the beginning of this, my grandma was really sick, thankfully not with Covid, but just seeing her in that place hurt my heart so much that I need to keep myself away from people for her and for my little siblings that can’t get vaccinated yet.
Dave Miller: How much of that decision is about everything we’ve been talking about as opposed to fears of the Coronavirus?
Alexus Small: I think that it’s probably 25% of that.
Dave Miller: 25% is about not wanting to put yourself physically in the school because you don’t feel supported as a Black student?
Alexus Small: Yes.
Dave Miller: Katia Pender. Are you going into the school?
Katia Pender: Yes, I am.
Dave Miller: What are your thoughts about the beginning of the school year?
Katia Pender: I’ve been excited to go and see the new school and be a freshman and be back in school because I didn’t go back into the hybrid last spring, but I am still pretty anxious about seeing people’s reactions if they have any.
Dave Miller: Katia Pender, Alexus Small and Ruth Hyland, thanks very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Alexus Small: Thank you for having us.
Katia Pender: Thank you.
Dave Miller: Katia Pender is going to be a freshman at Newberg High School, Alexus Small is a junior. Ruth Hyland is going to be a senior at Catalyst, which is an alternative high school in Newberg.
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