A school board in Oregon is holding a special meeting just days after a school employee was placed on administrative leave after going to work in blackface, officials said.
Racism and racial tensions have recently been the focus of conversations in the school district in Newberg, a city approximately 25 miles from Portland.
The school board is meeting Wednesday night to hear public comment on several issues, including recent incidents and a ban on political or controversial displays.
Newberg Public Schools said the latest incident took place Friday and the employee who wore blackface was “removed from the location.” No more details about the employee or the nature of the incident were disclosed by the school district.
“It is important to remember how blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm,” the district said in a statement.
Joe Morelock, the district’s superintendent, said he was “horrified, angry and ashamed” that the incident happened in his district and it was “unfathomably offensive.”
“Each incident report is always taken seriously as we diligently follow our policies to investigate and take appropriate action,” Morelock said in the statement.
“In this context, we say again that Newberg Public Schools and its staff condemn racism in all its forms in the strongest terms possible. Our administration and staff are working hard to create schools where each and every student belongs, as we move forward together in our mission of safely educating students,” he added.
A parent in the school district has expressed frustration over the district’s response. Tai Harden-Moore, whose daughter attends Newberg High School, told CNN affiliate KATU that the employee should have been terminated.
“Putting this educator on leave sends the wrong message. This educator should have been terminated immediately. There should be a zero-tolerance policy. There, in my opinion, is no investigation needed,” Harden-Moore told KATU.
District engulfed in debate over Pride and BLM signs
In the past month, the district has been grappling with other incidents.
Last week, a high school principal reported that a student was part of a Snapchat group named “slave trade” and used photos of other students in the group, using derogatory comments that included racial and homophobic slurs.
Newberg High School Principal Tami Erion described the incident in a September 14 letter to parents and shared with CNN by the school district.
The chat group originated in Michigan last year, but school administrators were only recently made aware of the group of the student’s participation, Erion said.
In a letter to the school community, Morelock said several people, including students had reported it and ensured them that “racist and bullying behavior had no place in the school district.”
That incident is being investigated, Morelock said, but any disciplinary action would not be shared to protect students’ privacy.
The school board has been discussing a proposed policy to ban and remove current displays of Black Lives Matters and LGBTQ+ pride imagery on school property.
The proposed policy has drawn criticism beyond the school community.
The ACLU of Oregon has said the ban is likely unconstitutional and last week, the Oregon State Board of Education passed a resolution calling on the Newberg school board to reverse course on their efforts.
“Equity does not mean that one side gets ignored or favored. It is quite the opposite: we have a responsibility to create and maintain humane, livable spaces for children who have consistently lived on the brink of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion,” Guadalupe Martinez-Zapata, vice-chair of the Oregon State Board of Education, said in a statement.
“A minimal demonstration of that humanity, a flag, a banner, a sign, is all it could take for a student to feel safe. Each student is unique, and every one deserves our love and care,” Martinez-Zapata added.
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