Oregon School Board Votes to Ban Pride and Black Lives Matter Flags

A school board in Oregon has been criticized after voting to ban Pride and Black Lives Matter (BLM) flags from its district school buildings

The Newberg Public Schools Board backed plans, by a vote of four to three, prohibiting signs, clothing and other items deemed to be broadly "political."

During a four-hour virtual meeting, school board director and vice chair Brian Shannon spoke out against what he viewed as "divisive symbols" and also called for a ban on teachers wearing any clothing linked to the BLM or Pride movements.

"The main goal of this is to get political symbols and divisive symbols out of our schools so we can focus on the already difficult task of educating our students in the core subjects," he said.

Several members of school staff offered contrasting viewpoints during the meeting, including Newberg schools counselor Joshua Reid, who rejected the idea that BLM or Pride represented anything political to young people.

"When these students enter our schools, and see the symbols that we mean to communicate love and support and affirmation, they don't see propaganda or indoctrination or any ideology," he said.

"They see a glimmer of hope that there can still be safe places and safe people in their schools."

Teacher Stacey Dalton also supported the continued presence of the flags, arguing that they offer "messages of love and support" rather than anything divisive.

"White and or heteronormative students, the majority, see their own validation consistently in the curriculum Newberg School districts have adopted and therefore do not need extra messages of support," she said.

The issue went further for Tai Harden-Moore, a parent of a Black student at one of the district's schools.

"Black students and other kids of color are under attack in Newberg schools," she told the meeting. "I know this to be true because my son was called a [n-word] at school."

Ines Peña, the only person of color on the school board, meanwhile spoke out at the lack of representation from school pupils in the discussion stating: "The students are not being heard."

Supporting All Children

However, for board chair Dave Brown the decision ultimately came down to a need to support "all kids."

"It still goes back to the fact that we have a lot of kids that are impacted by this positively or negatively," he said.

"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."

In a further development, the Newberg Public Schools Board also discussed reviewing the Oregon Department of Education's "Every Student Belongs" policy at its next meeting.

The policy was introduced to create a safer and more inclusive school environment for students regardless of race, religion, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation. Under the initiative, the use of hate symbols such as the swastika, Confederate flag and noose, is banned.

In a proposal put forward by the vice chair, the policy could be rolled back in a move that would leave the district in violation of state standards.

The actions of the Newberg Public Schools Board were condemned by Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, who criticized the ban on the flags and branded the attempt to overturn "Every Student Belongs" both "dangerous and wrong."

"These [flags] are emblems used by historically oppressed communities to create a safe space for students regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation," she said in a statement.

"The board's attempt to ban these symbols shows how great the need still is to better understand our history, not erase it."

She added: "What the school board is doing is reckless, prioritizing bigoted and partisan politics over our children's wellbeing and ability to succeed in and outside of the classroom."

The Oregon Legislative Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus also hit out at the boards's attempt to rescind the Every Student Belongs initiative.

"We are also extremely concerned by the board's undemocratic attempt to push through their politically-motivated agenda without input from the public," a statement read.

"As school board members, parents, and legislators, we are all responsible for keeping schools safe and doing everything we can to promote student success," they added.

"Removing this policy would also be a disservice to all students and their families, who in a diversifying job market and world will not be as competitive as others who have the skills to work within and contribute to an inclusive environment."

Newsweek reached out to the Newberg Public Schools Board for further comment.

Pride and Black Lives Matter Flags.
A progressive Pride flag alongside a Black Lives Matter flag. Flags of this kind have been banned across several schools in a district of Oregon. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty