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Demonstrators allegedly brandished firearms; legal questions arise from incident; school district will work with law enforcement

PMG FILE PHOTO - A demonstration in support of President Donald Trump and conservative causes took place in Newberg on Oct. 25 and the portion of the rally that occurred in the parking lot of Newberg High School is raising legal and procedural questions.

A demonstration in support of President Donald Trump and conservative causes took place in Newberg on Oct. 25 and the portion of the rally that occurred in the parking lot of Newberg High School is raising legal and procedural questions.

The Newberg School District emphasized that the demonstrators – a mix of adults and reportedly some students – did not go through proper protocols to host or commence their rally on school grounds. In addition, onlookers alleged the demonstrators brandished firearms on school property, including an AR-15 assault-style rifle.

Information has been provided to police about the incident, according to school district communications coordinator Gregg Koskela, who said demonstrators did not consult the district before hosting their event.

"At the district office, we became aware of it as the event was starting up and we received messages from people in the area who were concerned," Koskela said. "We have a policy for holding events on our campuses and there is a procedure for applying to hold events on school grounds. That was not followed in this case. Our fields, property and parking lots need to be cleared ahead of time – we don't just let anybody use it for whatever purposes they see fit."

Under the Gun-Free School Zone Act passed by Congress in 1990, it is against federal law for an unauthorized person to knowingly possess a firearm in a school zone, defined as within 1,000 feet of a school building. There are exceptions, like if the person in question has a concealed carry permit (which only applies to handguns), if the weapon is stored in a vehicle and not loaded or if the person is an on-duty law enforcement officer.

If an AR-15 or any other long rifle was brandished in a school zone, as has been alleged, that would be considered a violation of both federal and state law.PMG FILE PHOTO - Rallies for against the re-election of Donald Trump have increased as the Nov. 3 general election.

"The issue of weapons on campus is complicated for a number of reasons," Koskela explained. "We heard from people in the area that some people were brandishing weapons and at the very least that made them uncomfortable. We require that students and staff never have weapons on campus, and the state law with concealed carry is complicated, but we are turning over all information we can to the police to determine if the law was violated at any point.

"There is no situation where a person can have a long rifle on school grounds – that is federal and state law. If there is any evidence of that occurring, it will be turned over to the police for them to deal with."

"On the date of that event, the police department didn't receive any calls for service except for a traffic hazard," Sgt. Brian Hagen, NDPD public information officer, said. "We didn't receive any reports of people being violent or brandishing any weapons. We only found out about those allegations as emails began to transpire between us and school administration."

In the wake of the rally — which onlookers say grew aggressive and contentious, but demonstrators insist was a peaceful expression of political beliefs — Newberg schools superintendent Joe Morelock released a statement to the community that school grounds should be "a place of safety, free of intimidation." He reiterated that procedure was not followed to host the rally, and even if it was, the district would not have approved it because it does not want the appearance of political endorsement of either side of the aisle. It is illegal for a school district to endorse political candidates, Koskela added.

"We are investigating the event and we encourage anyone with evidence of weapons openly carried by students or staff members on school grounds to report it to the police," Morelock wrote. "We apologize for actions occurring that reportedly break school board policy and laws and reaffirm our commitment that school property should be free from endorsement of candidates or parties, and weapon-free and intimidation-free zones.

"We live in a great community. Practicing civil discourse about essential issues is welcomed, appreciated and essential to society. There is a difference between civil discussion of issues and endorsing a candidate or party on school grounds. It is our hope that our students and members of the Newberg-Dundee community will work to engage one another with respect, building trust and making our community bonds stronger even with our differing political views and beliefs."

The district's focus now is assisting law enforcement in determining whether the law was violated during the rally, particularly if weapons were brandished on school grounds.

"Apparently, there are some social media photos that have come to light of a man who is supposedly standing on school grounds with a holstered pistol on his hip, and there was a second complaint of a man who had been holding an AR-15 style rifle and the photo was allegedly him putting it in the trunk of a car," Hagen said. "Those are the only two complaints we've received so far, and at this point there haven't been any firsthand witnesses that have come forward to say anything like that. We're certainly willing to investigate if people come forward with evidence, but we have not received any firsthand allegations that someone brandished a weapon."

Koskela and district officials encouraged the community to contact law enforcement if they have evidence of such violations, and the district expressed its sympathies to community members who may have felt intimidated or endangered by the demonstration.

"There are cases where people of color feel intimidation when a rally like that occurs so close to their homes or neighborhoods," Koskela said. "There are situations when people feel intimidation when they see weapons brandished, especially if that were to occur on school grounds. There are also other perspectives where people just see this as an expression of support for a political candidate, but we have to consider all perspectives and the law when addressing an issue like this.

"If there had been proper procedure followed – whether if it was a Biden rally, a Trump rally or something else – that would have been denied by the district anyway. We do not want the appearance of political endorsement from our end, which is against the law. We've denied things like a renaissance fair before because part of that included weapons like swords. It's not a case of us playing political favorites. There is a process for things like this and laws about what you can and cannot do on school property."

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