Ban on Black Lives Matter, Pride Flags Prompts Oregon Teachers Union Lawsuit

An Oregon teachers union filed a lawsuit last week against a local school district over a decision school board members made earlier this year to block Black Lives Matter and gay pride flags from being displayed on district property.

The lawsuit, a copy of which was shared by the Portland-based news station KOIN, alleges the board's decision is a violation of free speech rights protected by both the Oregon Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, as well as due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The suit was filed on November 3 by the Newberg Education Association (NEA) against the public K-12 Newberg School District.

The lawsuit alleges the school board's new policy "unreasonably discriminates against plaintiffs on the basis of the content of their speech, prohibits free expression on public property, and the prohibition is not permitted by any historical exception."

BLM Pride flags Oregon lawsuit
A teachers union in Oregon is suing the Newberg School District over a recent ban on displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride flags. Above, pride flags next to a Black Lives Matter sign at New York City's Christopher Park on June 26, 2020. Noam Galai/Getty Images

The new policy also "prohibits expression which would not cause any of the alleged effects sought to be avoided by defendants and includes speech related to BLM and Pride which finds support among all the organizations responsible for educating students in the state of Oregon, including the [Oregon Department of Education]," the lawsuit alleges.

In August, the district's school board voted in favor of a resolution to take down all Black Lives Matter "signs, flags, placards, apparel, buttons, and all other modes of display," as well as "all instances of the symbol known as the Pride flag," from facilities within the district "immediately." That initial resolution made exceptions for the American and Oregon state flags.

The NEA notified the board of its legal concerns over the resolution, after which the board revised the policy to be less specific and bar display of images or symbols related to "political" or "controversial" topics, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The Oregon State Board of Education issued a resolution of its own that encouraged the district to reverse its decision. The resolution "urgently requests that all Oregon school districts, public charter schools, and education service districts affirm that 'Black Lives Matter' by striving to make space in classrooms and within the school community for dialogue and support for issues of race and equity."

The resolution also requested schools throughout the state take additional steps to ensure every member of the school community "know that they belong and are valued," among other recommendations.

The resolution cites the Newberg district specifically, asking its board "to celebrate and stand in solidarity with students through the use of signs, flags, placards and symbols" and support the state board's Every Student Belongs rule, which took effect in September 2020.

The state board's resolution also called upon Newberg School District to "reverse course on its clear and continuous effort '...to remove all Black Lives Matter (aka BLM) signs, flags, and placards, apparel, buttons, and all other modes of display, and all instances of the symbol known as the Pride Flag from District facilities,' and to validate that student identities are not inherently political or controversial, but welcomed and affirmed."

The Newberg School District declined to comment when reached by Newsweek, citing the pending nature of the litigation.