Oregon school board drops ban on gay pride and other symbols

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A school district in Oregon has quietly rescinded its ban on educators displaying symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement or gay pride, following a court settlement with a teachers’ union.

Newberg, Ore., a town of about 25,000 residents nestled in Oregon’s wine country, had became an unlikely focal point for the national battle over schooling between the left and right. Newberg lies 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Portland.

In 2021, the board banned school staff from displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, then expanded the ban to all political or controversial signs after being advised the first rule wouldn’t survive a legal challenge.

The Newberg City Council and multiple Democratic members of the Oregon House and Senate all condemned the school board’s action.

The Newberg School Board voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to rescind the controversial policy, a month after the Newberg Education Association announced it had settled its federal civil rights lawsuit over the matter.

“The policy will not be amended or changed, it is gone,” Newberg schools Superintendent Stephen Phillips told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Opponents had said the rules emboldened racists.

In September 2021, a special education staffer at a Newberg elementary school showed up for work in blackface, saying she was portraying anti-segregation icon Rosa Parks to protest a statewide vaccine mandate for educators. The same week, word emerged that some Newberg students had participated in a Snapchat group in which participants pretended to buy and sell Black students.

The local teachers’ union said the court settlement includes the school board reimbursing both the National Education Association and the Oregon Education Association for part of their legal fees. The Yamhill County Circuit Court ruled earlier that the school board’s policy violated the state constitution’s free speech guarantee.

“It protects the marginalized populations in our student and staff bodies,” the Newberg Education Association said of the ruling. “We can continue to create safe spaces in our schools and offer support to students who identify as LGBTQIA+ and students of color without fear of retaliation.”

The union lamented that it took so long for the school board to reverse itself.

“We could have saved hours of legal preparation and public funds,” the Oregon Education Association said in a statement.

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