Lawsuit targets Newberg school district policy banning political symbols

Newberg Public Schools and four of its board members face legal action over a policy banning “political” and “quasi-political” symbols.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a complaint on Friday on behalf of district employee Chelsea Shotts, a special education assistant at Dundee Primary School.

The lawsuit revolves around a rainbow sign with a heart and the words “Be Known” – a slogan used by George Fox University – which was displayed in her classroom window. The sign became part of the first complaint stemming from the district’s new policy which prohibits district employees from displaying “political, quasi-political or controversial” symbols. The rainbow sign also appears to be linked to the sacking of former district superintendent Joe Morelock.

A photo of the rainbow sign displayed in the Mindfulness Room at Dundee Elementary School, which is included in the complaint filed by the ACLU Oregon.

Provided in Oregon ACLU lawsuit

The ACLU Oregon lawsuit claims the policy violates provisions of the Oregon Constitution to protect free speech, demands equal treatment under the law, and ensures that the laws are not vague. It is being filed against the District and the four board members who approved the policy: David Brown, Brian Shannon, Trevor DeHart and Renee Powell. In the lawsuit, Shotts does not seek financial compensation.

“We want this policy declared unconstitutional, so that not only does not affect the rights of Chelsea, but that it does not limit the rights of anyone in the school district,” Kelly Simon, legal director of the school district, told OPB. ‘ACLU Oregon. “And we want teachers to feel free to tell their students that their lives matter – tell their queer students, their black students, tell every student that they matter and that they can be safe when they do. come to school. “

Families, staff and community members marched in support of the LGBTQ + community and Black Lives Matter ahead of a Newberg school board meeting on August 10, 2021. School board voted to ban Black Lives Matter and pride flags .

Families, staff and community members marched in support of the LGBTQ + community and Black Lives Matter ahead of a Newberg school board meeting on August 10, 2021. School board voted to ban Black Lives Matter and pride flags .

Courtesy of Joël Bock

The lawsuit indicates that district policy does not provide a clear definition of “political” and “quasi-political”. Board members also struggled with the language of politics when they discussed the complaint against the Schotts panel at their November 9 meeting.

“It’s like the grayest gray area for me, because is any rainbow pattern automatically a pride flag?” Shannon said at the meeting. “I don’t think that’s the case. My daughter wears rainbow pajamas all the time. So, it’s hard, I’m not going to lie.

Board member DeHart later added, “There are many different types of ducks in the world, and they have different colors, different shapes, but in the end they’re all ducks. If we take a pride flag or a [Black Lives Matter] flag or a [Make America Great Again] flag and putting a heart in it, does that change the essence of what it is? “

The rainbow sign complaint was filed by Dundee resident Michael Gunn just two days after the school board adopted its new policy in September. The following month, former Superintendent Morelock emailed Gunn with his determination that the sign “is not a political, quasi-political or controversial sign, and should not be removed,” according to the documents. meeting.

Morelock’s determination was included in the record for the public meeting on November 9 – the same meeting in which board members voted to oust Morelock as superintendent. Morelock would later tell OPB’s Think Out Loud that some people probably felt “frustrated” that the work to enforce the policy was not moving fast enough.

The board ultimately voted to file its decision on Morelock’s determination that Schott’s rainbow sign is not “political, quasi-political or controversial,” and it has yet to vote publicly. On the question. The ACLU Oregon lawsuit says Schotts fears she may face disciplinary action or retaliation because of the ensign, particularly after Morelock was fired.

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