NEWBERG, Ore. — Voters in the Newberg School District will decide whether or not to recall two controversial members of its school board on Jan. 18. Roughly 25,000 voters are eligible to vote in the recall election targeting Chair Dave Brown and Vice Chair Brian Shannon.
Brown and Shannon began attracting widespread attention last summer when they led an effort to ban Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride flags in schools. It was later broadened to a ban on all political symbols amid legal pushback. Months later, the Newberg School Board again sparked controversy after the board's conservative majority unexpectedly fired Superintendent Joe Morelock.
After multiple requests, Brown agreed to an interview with KGW, where he discussed the recall, defended the political symbols ban and said accusations of systemic racism in the district are "overblown."
"[The symbols ban] came out of, simple as that, politics in the classroom. They are political and they are adult-driven and our kids are being used in this situation," said Brown when asked why the ban was necessary in the first place.
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There have been several incidents of racism in Newberg schools in recent months — a student participated in a virtual "slave trade," offering up his Black classmates to be auctioned, and a staff member showed up to a different Newberg school in blackface. Asked if he thinks there is systemic racism in Newberg, Brown downplayed the incidents and called people "hypersensitive."
"I'm really disappointed in adults who push this, and I know it has been because I've talked to the parents, I've talked to kids," Brown said. "Do kids experience some of this stuff? Absolutely. It's been around since I was a kid. But it's, again, we have lots of different things that happen to our students every day at school, and going to high school's rough, middle school's difficult. I think anybody that went through those, if you step back and just contemplate what you went through at that level, it's a tough time to get through."
Brown said he thinks the recall is a waste of taxpayer money, but defended the costs associated with firing Morelock and defending the district from legal challenges filed over the political symbols ban. He said keeping students in the district — and the funding that comes with them — is more important.
"The recalls are totally from the other side, they shouldn't have done it," Brown said. "I think elections speak for themselves and that we should stand by elections."