Newberg school
Banner thanking supporters of Newberg schools is seen, next to the athletic fields of Newberg High School, in Newberg, Ore. The Newberg School Board has banned educators from displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, prompting a torrent of recriminations and threats to boycott the town and its businesses. (Andrew Selsky/AP/Shutterstock)

Oregon School Board Fires Superintendent Who Didn’t Support Their Ban on Symbols Supporting Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride

Things are growing increasingly tense in Newberg, Oregon — a town of 23,000 located approximately 25 miles southwest of Portland — as the conservative school board continues its recent attack on diversity and inclusion within the district.

Andrew Selsky of the Associated Press reported that the Newberg school board, which “recently banned teachers from displaying symbols including those supporting gay pride and Black Lives Matter, has abruptly fired the [school’s] superintendent, deeply upsetting members who opposed the move.”

According to Selsky, “the escalating disputes in the Newberg School Board come as schools nationwide have become battlegrounds, with arguments over vaccine and mask mandates, how racism is addressed in teaching, instruction related to sexuality and gender-neutral bathrooms.”

Newberg school Superintendent Joe Morelock was reportedly fired virtually in a Zoom meeting last week. School board member Brandy Penner told AP she believes the conservative board members fired Morelock “because he didn’t aggressively implement their ban on controversial symbols, adding that the policy didn’t define what symbols would be unacceptable.”

Morelock told Rebecca Piros, another board member who opposed his firing, to “just remember that from the darkest dark comes the brightest light, so everything will work out eventually.” His quote has since become a rallying cry for the group Newberg Equity in Education, composed primarily of parents who oppose the school board’s recent actions. They have held repeated demonstrations before the school district office demanding the right-leaning policies be rescinded.

“The four conservative board members offered no explanation as they summarily fired Morelock, giving him 10 days left on the job,” Selsky reported.

In addition to several members of the school board coming out against the firing, the Newberg superintendent’s advisory cabinet — a group of administrators from across the school district — condemned the move, saying they were “shocked and dismayed that the board would take this disruptive action in the middle of the school year.”

“Under [Morelock’s] leadership, new contracts with our associations brought better pay to teachers and staff, more educational school days for our students, a stabilized financial situation with a safety net of over $9 million in the ending fund balance, and the passage of the largest construction bond in the history of Newberg Public Schools,” the advisory cabinet said.

The Newberg teachers’ union also denounced Morelock’s firing, saying it was “yet another example of a board majority bringing instability to our schools.”

Rick Rogers, the mayor of Newberg, also issued a statement saying to the school board, “while you may believe your actions only affect the school district, please know, in truth, your actions impact us all. To thrive, Newberg must be welcoming to all.”

“The Newberg Education Association union has already filed a lawsuit over a policy passed by the conservative school board members that limit what kinds of images or signs school employees can display on campus,” Selsky reported. “The board initially passed a rule banning school staff from displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, but then expanded it to all political or controversial signs and symbols after being advised the first rule wouldn’t survive a legal challenge.”

The teachers’ union claims that the policy violates both the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protecting freedom of speech and the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law.

 

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

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