An employee at a school in Newberg went to work in blackface last week and has been placed on administrative leave, according to a message from the district.

The Newberg School District wrote in a release, “It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm. We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.”

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According to a staff member who spoke to the Newberg Graphic on condition of anonymity, the school employee claimed to be wearing blackface to protest Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates, and was attempting to look like civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

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The school employee’s racist action comes a week after the district acknowledged at least one Newberg High School student was part of a Snapchat group engaged in racist and threatening speech. The so-called “Slave Trade” group posted images of Black students associated with dollar values.

The school board has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday night to take public comment on their “recent actions, tabled motions, and upcoming decisions that may include the ban on political or controversial displays, changes to the Anti-Racism Resolution 2020-04 language.”

In August the school board voted to ban pride flags, flags reading Black Lives Matter and any broadly “political” signs, clothing and other items. Supporters of the ban on those items said the signs were “divisive,” and that signs don’t make people feel safe.

The policy, which Newberg’s school board voted to approve once, will be up for a second reading and possible approval later this month.

Prohibiting overt visual support for minority groups is contrary to recent state efforts to highlight support for students, including the Oregon Department of Education’s Black Lives Matter October 2020 resolution and recent efforts to help LGBTQ+ students.

The Oregon Department of Education, the city of Newberg, the American Civil Liberties Union, some lawmakers and others have called for the board to reverse course.

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It’s been two weeks since 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, with a board committee determining what is “political” and what is not. Since that decision, the board’s action has drawn condemnation and legal questions, including from state legislators Thursday.