After previously threatening legal action should the district move forward with its ban on Black Lives Matter and Pride displays in school buildings, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon sent a demand letter to the Newberg school board on Aug. 30. The legal advocacy organization's letter demands an "immediate retraction" of the ban, which the ACLU has called unconstitutional and the local teachers' union has filed tort claims notices in response to.
"As students, teachers and staff return to school, they should feel welcomed and included - that they belong," ACLU of Oregon legal director Kelly Simon said in a press release. "That is exactly what Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride messages do. This is welcoming and inclusive speech. It is protected speech.
"Schools are legally obligated to make sure that Black and LGBTQ+ students and staff are welcomed. State and federal law prohibits education providers from discriminating against students and employees based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity. The board's action sends a message to students and staff that Black and LGBTQ+ students are not to be cared for or celebrated in the district, their safety and security needs will not be met, and that the district is a hostile environment for them.
"We strongly encourage the Newberg school board to immediately revisit and reverse their ban on displays of belonging and inclusion. If the Newberg school board continues to violate the United States and Oregon constitutions, as well as other state and federal laws, we will see them in court."
The school board plans to revisit and potentially rescind the BLM/Pride ban at a special meeting Wednesday, referring the ban to its policy committee for further review. Still, the ACLU's demand letter adds to mounting legal pressure the district faces in response to the ban, and whatever form a future policy may take could still face legal hurdles before potential implementation.
The ACLU's argument against the ban is three-pronged: that it violates Article I, section 8 of the Oregon Constitution; that it runs counter to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that it violates state laws put in place to protect Black and LBGTQ+ students.
"The ACLU of Oregon strongly encourages the board to revisit and rescind the unlawful and ill-considered directives it issued at the Aug. 10 meeting," the ACLU letter reads. "Choosing to do the right and lawful thing is fiscally responsible and in the best interests of students and staff. We also urge Superintendent Morelock to continue to refuse to implement the illegal directive and make clear to students and staff that they have protected rights. Should the board and its counsel wish to discuss the contents of this letter further, please do not hesitate to reach out."
To read the full letter and press release from the ACLU, visit aclu-or.org/en/press-releases/statement-aclu-oregon-banning-black-lives-matter-and-lgbtq-pride-displays-newberg.
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