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Oregon School Board Bans Employees From Displaying Political Symbols

While acting in their roles as school employees, educators are prohibited from displaying items that depict support or opposition for 'political, quasipolitical, or controversial' topics

A school board in Oregon has voted to prohibit district employees from displaying all types of political symbols.

Last month, the Newberg School Board banned educators from displaying Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols. The town, which has about 23,000 people and is southwest of Portland, was besieged by criticism following the decision. There were threats to boycott the town and its businesses.

Government officials, including Newberg city councilors and people of color on the Oregon Legislature, joined in the backlash. The Oregon State Board of Education said student identities should be welcomed and asked the Newberg School board to repeal its decision. 

On Tuesday, the board rescinded the measure and enacted a broader ban on political symbols in school.

Board Chair Dave Brown said, “We need to get moving back towards education. … We’ve been derailed for quite a while.”

Brown was part of the majority in the 4-3 vote that approved the new policy.

As it is written, the policy states, “No district employee shall, while acting within the scope of their employment, either during school hours, or inside their physical area of responsibility at a school (such as a classroom, meeting room, desk area) hang, post, erect, or otherwise display … any posters, signs, flags, banners, pictures or other digital or physical [images] that depicts support or opposition relating to a political, quasipolitical, or controversial topic.”

The board defined a controversial topic as one that “a professional educator could reasonably understand to have students on more than one side of said issue.”

The policy specifically allows exceptions in the case of First Amendment rights for students and employees.

“The flags of the United States of America and the State of Oregon are not prohibited by this policy,” nor are “union materials covered by collective bargaining agreements.”

After the vote on Tuesday, the board’s Vice Chair Brian Shannon voiced his desire to end discussions of the issue.

“This policy is so innocuous,” he said. “It just says that teachers can’t display political symbols at work while they’re on school time. I don’t want to spend five, six more minutes on this issue, let alone six more weeks.”

School Board Director Brandy Penner told reporters that Shannon’s view reflects those of a “white privileged male.”

“But it’s a really big deal to a lot of our community, and a lot of our staff, and a lot of our students,” she said.

In a post on Facebook, the Newberg Education Association wrote, “We cannot let this group of 4 impose their own political agenda, erode our rights, and strip our support of our students. Our educators are united in their goal to create classrooms where students can walk in and feel like they belong.”

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