Oregon School Board Takes Fire for Banning Educators’ Political Imagery on Campus 

By Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes
November 12, 2021 Updated: November 12, 2021

As fights over ideology poison school board agendas around the country, the Newberg School Board, which recently adopted a policy prohibiting educators from displaying political or controversial symbols or imagery on school property, has been under siege since August.

The board has been threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), admonished by state legislators and the Oregon State Board of Education (BOE), scrutinized by the community and national media, and taken to task by the local city council.

Now it’s being sued by its own teachers and, during a contentious Nov. 9 board meeting, members voted 4-3 to fire District Superintendent Joe Morelock.

When Newberg’s board first adopted the policy on the same 4-3 vote in August, it directed administrators to remove signs and posters of a political nature, specifically citing Black Lives Matters and Pride images.

Under threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU, the board opted for broader language that removed reference to any specific political movements. It still banned images “related to a political, quasi-political, or controversial topic” on school grounds.

The toned down language did not satisfy critics of the policy. Twice, the board has rejected a motion to rescind the ban.

“Our policies are based on law and this [ban] … would be, to my current understanding, illegal,” said board member Brandy Penner during a Sept. 2 meeting.

Vice Chair Brian Shannon, who is now facing a recall initiative spearheaded by teachers, disagreed.

“I think it can legally be enforced, and it’s the expressed will of the board as it has passed it, and I think it will remain that way until we replace it,” he said.

Oregon’s board of education issued a resolution on Sept. 16 that called on the school to “reverse course” on its political sign ban and to “encourage district staff to celebrate and stand in solidarity with students.”

On Nov. 3, the Newberg Education Association filed a lawsuit against four of the board members on behalf of the teacher’s union.

The 18-page complaint, obtained by The Epoch Times, claims that the district policy violated the plaintiffs First Amendment rights to free speech and their 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution, as well as Oregon’s constitutionally protected rights against arbitrary and unequal treatment.

According to board minutes from July 13, which are cited in the complaint, Vice Chair Shannon explained his support for removing BLM and Pride symbols saying he, “feels they are inherently political symbols and posting them in a taxpayer funded facility equates to indoctrination of students into certain ideological beliefs, which is not appropriate, and we need to refocus our district on education, not indoctrination.”

The policy instructs employees to keep their political opinions and activities out of the classroom.

“No employee will use district facilities, equipment or supplies in connection with his/her political activities, nor will he/she use any time during the work day for such political activities,” the policy says.

It does not limit, nor apply to communications, nor the free exchange of ideas during the course of approved educational events, or exploration of approved curriculum.

“This policy is so innocuous,” said Shannon during a Sept. 28 board meeting. “It just says that teachers can’t display political symbols at work while they’re on school time. That should not be controversial.”

Fellow board director Penner disagreed.

“Maybe it is nothing to you as a white, privileged male,” responded Penner. “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 characterized those who voted for the ban as “extremists” and “authoritarians.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent Morelock publicly expressed his concern about implementing the ban on grounds that it would be too subjective.

And during its Nov. 9 meeting, the same four members of the board abruptly voted to fire Morelock, but declined to give a reason.

“Newberg is the tip of the spear,” said board director Dave Brown during that meeting. “The BLM flag should never have been in the schools. Neither should the MAGA flag, or the Blue Lives flag.”

Students are caught in the middle.

“It just feels so divided,” said Maddi Klink, the board’s student representative. “I’ve never felt like this before.”

Morelock is the fourth superintendent in Oregon to be terminated this year.