Following the motion to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride symbols on school grounds in early August, teachers in Newberg, Oregon, claim that the resulting firestorm is compounding the stresses of a new school year.
Students returned to classrooms on Sept. 8, marking the first in-person school year since the pandemic began. According to The Newberg Graphic, some teachers say that the school board's vote to ban the symbols has created another problem for educators to worry about while getting kids adjusted to a new normal.
"We're trying to start a school year positively, and the distractions these four people (on the school board) are putting out there are not making that very easy," Gail Grobey, an English teacher at Newberg High School and organizing chairperson for the Newberg teachers' union.
"It's challenging to think about putting together the beginning of school but still feeling really compelled to take action as a body to show the kids and families how much we support them and who they are," Grobey added.
The school board recently tabled a motion that would have rescinded the ban while it waited for the district's policy committee to draft official language, instead directing Superintendent Joe Morelock to "enact the ban on those specific symbols while the policy committee works to craft official language banning all that they refer to as political symbols," wrote The Newberg Graphic.
Newberg Public Schools issued a statement on Friday regarding the issue:
"Newberg Public Schools cannot enact policies that, according to district counsel, likely violate state and federal law. Doing otherwise could put the school district at serious financial and legal risk. The school board's decision to ban Pride and Black Lives Matter imagery from schools has gone through revision in the Board's policy committee and will come to the full Board on Tuesday, September 14, 2021."
Morelock has reportedly been advised by the district's legal counsel that the move to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride symbols would be illegal.
Grobey told The Newberg Graphic that the Newberg Education Association is forming an organizing committee to decide how union members will respond as a whole to the board's actions, besides a lawsuit already laid forth by the NEA.
"We are certainly going to become very active in terms of supporting the community coalition that has formed against these actions by the board," Grobey said. "This is their fight almost more than it's ours, and we are ready to support them. There are groups out there in the community who have a stake in this as parents and community members of varying backgrounds."
Grobey assured that most teachers did not have said displays in their classrooms and those that did only did so to create a culture of acceptance.
Grobey herself said that she had taken down the American flag in her classroom because "it's the most political symbol there is."
"When I see Trevor DeHart sitting there at those board meetings with that giant American flag behind him, it's terrifying. That symbol doesn't stand for freedom or justice or equality anymore. It stands for violence and menace and intolerance, and I will not fly that in my room," said Grobey.
"We want to be really excited about the kids coming in and there is already this ubiquitous apprehension around the risks of COVID. You throw in this other thing where Big Brother wants to control what we support or what we talk about. Are we going to cancel government classes? That is deeply political. What does civics mean? We can't have civil discourse on anything under this policy language, and it's frankly ridiculous," Grobey stated.
Schools around Oregon have been exposed in recent months to critical race theory teachings as well as plans to turn students into radical activists.
Katharine Watkins, who identifies herself as an 8th grade humanities teacher at Cedar Park Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon, said that those who don't teach their students critical race theory are abusing the children. "The biggest thing, too, is we need to start having antiracist education for our students. Of course we want our teachers to know about whiteness, and stuff like that, but we've got to start telling these children as soon as possible what's going on," said Watkins.
"You being the activist for your student, but also having your student be an activist for themselves, so that they are the ones who are also saying 'this is a problem.' So we're teaching them how to get that power rather than just waiting to see what happens. That follow-up, that follow-up, and taking it even to social media."