NEWBERG, Ore. — The Newberg School District Board of Directors is expected to discuss rescinding the removal of "political" signs and flags in its schools during its Sept. 1 school board meeting. It's the first issue listed on the agenda for Wednesday night's meeting.
This comes after backlash surrounding the decision to ban political signs and flags, including the LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, in early August. Following that decision, the district received national attention. The ACLU of Oregon said it was considering legal action if the ban continued.
School board director and vice chair Brian Shannon led the original push to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride flags and imagery from district buildings. The school board voted 4-3 in favor of the ban.
“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 while advocating for the ban.
After the vote, Erin McCarthy and her husband Jaybill helped build a 17x30 foot Progress Pride flag within view of Newberg High School after the vote. It represents both LGBTQ+ people and people of color. Later, a Black Lives Matter flag of the same size joined it.
"People are not political!" said neighbor Erin McCarthy. "It's not expressing a Democratic idea or Republican idea or conservative or liberal ... It's human beings."
Advocates said that the saying, “Black Lives Matter” was different from the organization of the same name.
"Black kids in rural areas need to know that they actually have support," said activist Andre Miller.
Miller emphasized the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is not the same as the political organization of the same name.
"When we say Black Lives Matter on the street, we're really referring to our lives as Black people matter," Miller said. "Our life isn't political. The only divisiveness is white supremacy."
"When members of a marginalized population ask for help, you say yes," Erin McCarthy said. "I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything. I'm trying to show love and support to members of these communities. If it makes you angry, it's not for you, so don't look at it."
Studies from the Trevor Project show lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are about five times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide because of bullying and lack of support. That rate goes up for transgender youth.
Another study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed Black children under 13 are twice as likely to die by suicide than white children.
"It is preventable," Kelly Lash, a licensed professional counselor who attended the peaceful protest in Newberg. "The treatment is love and acceptance."
The school board may face other legal trouble, according to reporting by Ryan Clarke of the Newberg Graphic. Clarke found four board members may have violated state law during a closed-door meeting when they voted to hire an outside lawyer.
"[These flags show] that they're worthy of being alive," said Lash. "Literally saves lives."
The Newberg School District meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
To listen to the meeting, call one of these numbers and follow the prompts:1-253-215-8782 or 1-301-715-8592 Meeting ID: 858 6154 0495; Passcode: 307688
Or login via Zoom, using Meeting ID: 858 6154 0495; Password: 307688