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Longtime directors say they can no longer tolerate actions, behavior of the conservative majority

And then there were none.

The final remaining minority members have departed from the Newberg school board, leaving behind the conservative majority that has been embroiled in controversy for the past year.Penner

Longtime board members Rebecca Piros and Brandy Penner tendered their resignations at a regularly scheduled board meeting on June 14. The resignations were accepted by the remainder of the board without fanfare and with little comment.

Piros, choking back tears at times during a short speech, decried the actions of the majority members — chairman Dave Brown, vice-chairman Brian Shannon and directors Trevor DeHart and Renee Powell.

"The board's actions and decisions this past year have broken my heart, and, therefore,

I am submitting my resignation from the Newberg school board tonight," she said. "I feel I can no longer work with people who I feel don't have the best interest of every student and every staff member at heart."Piros

Piros' departure means the loss of institutional knowledge she gained over two decades in all manner of posts.

"It has been my deepest privilege and honor to serve the community of Newberg and Dundee for the past 20 years, first as a volunteer, then as a high school secretary, a classified union officer and then on the board," she said.

The board has come under fire since a July 2021 decision to ban political symbols in classrooms, as well as the firing of superintendent Joe Morelock, the filing of a lawsuit against its constituents, alleged violations of public meetings law and other actions that have brought unwelcome attention to the town.

Attempts to gain comment from Shannon went unheeded. Brown agreed to answer questions forwarded to him by this newspaper, but we were not furnished answers by press time Friday.

Piros and Penner join the dozens of teachers and high-level administrators who have left the district over the past several months in response to the board's actions. Director Ines Peña resigned from the board in February, also citing the conduct of the majority for her departure.

"It is a great professional and personal disappointment that in the last year I have been part of a school board that is laser focused on destroying not only public education, but our community," Penner said in a lengthy prepared statement. "For months, hundreds of students, staff, parents and community members have pleaded with this board to listen, to lead with professionalism and compassion, and these pleas fell on deaf ears."

Penner pointed to what she characterized as the disingenuous actions of the majority board members.

"While words like transparency, parental voice and fiscal conservatism came from the board, actions like name calling, homophobic slurs, rampant abuse of power and disregard for public meeting laws and tax dollars are happening …," she said. "This board is no longer a place (for) healthy change, work with other professionals dedicated to students or be associated with. I can no longer have my name, efforts and passions associated with this dysfunction. I fear the financial, legal and moral ramifications for this school district in the coming years, and while I am stepping down from this position upon the adjournment of this meeting, I am far from leaving this fight."

She added that oftentimes other board members' vitriol was directed at her for her opposing views.

"I'm a survivor of domestic violence and what I have experienced on this board for the last three years has brought back far too many personal memories of abuse," she said. "Colleagues telling you that their atrocious and abusive behavior was in fact my fault. That the name calling, the sexism and the outright disrespect were my fault, because I refused to break the law and let students and educators suffer open harassment and discrimination. … No one deserves to be treated poorly, called names, laughed at and disregarded."

She bemoaned what has become of the board in the past year and how it differed from previous administrations.

"The school board I joined had members who had served students of Newberg and Dundee for decades," she said. "They were a group of people who were both moderate and considerate. Many had children in the district and were well known and respected in the community. There was a sense of duty to ensure we were a steady force for positive growth."

Penner urged district constituents troubled by the board's actions and behavior to get involved in effecting change.

"To the voters of Newberg and Dundee — vote. Run for school board in May of 2023 and do not allow our communities to be defined by hateful extremism. …," she said. "For those who can continue to fight, thank you. Organize, resist, be bold, knowing you are always on the right side of history when leading from love."

At that point Brown said, "we are well past our three minutes" and gaveled the meeting to order.

"You've said a lot," he told Penner. "That's your opinions. Obviously, you have disagreement, but those are your opinions."

However, he allowed Penner to continue for a few minutes more. She seized the opportunity to call attention to forces beyond the confines of the city that allegedly are behind some of the board's actions.

"We have become a national example of what happens when a school district is highjacked by outside political funding, extremism, misinformation and propaganda," she said. "This will not be the end of our story. Ever an optimist, I believe that there are brighter days ahead and, in the meantime, keep looking for the helpers, those who are centering student and staff needs and voices, those who recognize that simply existing is not political, that simply loving is not controversial."

Pair files formal complaint

A few days prior to their resignations, Piros and Penner filed a formal complaint against the conservative members of the school board. The pair contends that Brown, Shannon, DeHart and Powell, on numerous occasions, violated the board's own policies as well as numerous state laws. The violations, they allege, include holding quorums outside of regular meetings, hiring attorney Tyler Smith as co-counsel, violating public meeting laws, asking Morelock for his resignation without full knowledge of the board, asking then-assistant superintendent Derek Brown to serve as interim superintendent without board knowledge, failing to follow the district's complaint process, improperly noticing meetings and not adhering to laws concerning agendas.

Although the pair's complaint is a formality and will not likely have any legal ramifications for the majority, Penner and Piros' thoughts are now part of the public record nonetheless.

"We respectfully submit these complaints to encourage the majority to begin to adhere to the governing policies of the Newberg school board," they wrote.

Piros explained her reasoning for submitting the complaint prior to her resignation.

"To make a formal complaint is necessary to show the disregard they have toward policies," said Piros, who was appointed in 2018 and elected in 2019. "Policies are the only thing we have to hold them accountable to. We also want to show an example to the public what a formal complaint should look like."


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