School board in overwhelmingly white area bans ‘divisive’ Pride flags and Black Lives Matter signs

A participant seen holding an umbrella turned into a LGBT+ rights and BLM sign

A school board in Oregon is facing harsh criticism for its decision to ban LGBT+ Pride and Black Lives Matter (BLM) memorabilia from its school buildings.

The Newberg Public Schools Board voted 4-3 to prohibit signs, flags, clothing and other items deemed to be broadly “political” from its school buildings across the district, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported. The board’s three-member policy committee is set to outline what constitutes “political”.

During a four-hour virtual meeting, Brian Shannon, school board director and vice-chair, spoke out against what he viewed as “divisive symbols”. He 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,” Shannon said.

However, Newberg schools counsellor Joshua Reid rejected the idea that BLM and Pride represented anything divisive to students.

“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 LGBT+ Pride and BLM symbols in school buildings. She said the symbols helped students see themselves in a school where they might not otherwise feel represented.

“They are messages of love and support,” Dalton said. “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.”

People gather to protest at the one year anniversary of the Black Lives Matter Stonewall Protests Pride flag

People gather to protest at the one year anniversary of the Black Lives Matter Stonewall Protests near The Stonewall Inn on 17 June 2021. (Getty/Alexi Rosenfeld)

According to OPB, the board was also supposed to work on “replacement language” for the district’s anti-racism policy and rescinding the district’s “Every Student Belongs” (ESB) policy. The outlet noted that if the Newberg School District decided to rollback on ESB then it would be in violation of Oregon state standards.

The Oregon department of education’s ESB policy was rolled out in September 2020. It requires school districts to “adopt and implement policies and procedures that prohibit the use or display of the noose, swastika, or confederate flag in any program or school-sponsored activity except where used in teaching curricula”.

Oregon state representative Ricki Ruiz told NBC News that he was “disappointed by the actions taken from Newberg School Directors to ban pride and BLM flags from schools, and their attempts to roll back on anti-racist school policies such as the Every Student Belongs policy”.

Ruiz explained ESB is in place to “ensure students feel welcome and safe while learning” in Oregon schools.

“Our children should not bear the brunt end of partisan politics meant to further divide,” Ruiz said. “Every student belongs in school, every student deserves to learn in a welcoming, and safe environment.”

According to data collected by the US census bureau, Newberg, Oregon had a 22,068-person population in April 2010. Of the city’s population, a majority (87.5 per cent) are white, 14.3 per cent are Hispanic or Latino, 2.2 per cent are Asian and 0.4 per cent are Black.