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Actions by district chairman and vice-chairman under scrutiny from BIPOC caucus, House leader.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The actions of some members of the Newberg school board were condemned by state legislative leaders last week.

After some members of the Newberg School Board pushed forward with attempted rollbacks of inclusionary messaging and policies, state legislators in Salem responded with condemnation in a press release Aug. 2. Two days later, House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner echoed the caucus's sentiments in a condemnation of her own.

"The Newberg School Board's attempt to overturn the Every Student Belongs policy is dangerous and wrong, and must not be allowed to go unchallenged," Smith Warner said. "Director Brian Shannon and Chairman Dave Brown, and any other board members who support this misguided effort, are putting our students' ability to safely and effectively learn in the classroom at risk.

"What the school board is doing is reckless, prioritizing bigoted and partisan politics over our children's wellbeing and ability to succeed in and outside of the classroom. As the Legislative Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus previously stated, Every Student Belongs was implemented with the intent of creating a competitive workforce that adequately equips our students with the tools and skills to work in an increasingly diversified job market and global economy."

The Oregon Legislative BIPOC Caucus called out vice-chairman Shannon and chairman Brown for their attempts to remove Black Lives Matter signs and Pride flags from schools, change the language in the district's anti-racism resolution and do away with the Every Student Belongs policy mandated by the state. These motions will be discussed at the Aug. 10 school board meeting after Shannon's initial attempts to push them through without public input were deemed illegal by district staff as a violation of public meeting laws.

"We condemn the actions of Director Brian Shannon, Chairman Dave Brown and board members who support removing the Every Student Belongs policy, which was a Republican chief-sponsored bill that passed with bipartisan support," the BIPOC caucus said in its press release. "The intent of the Legislature in developing this piece of legislation was to protect children in the classroom and create a competitive workforce prepared for the challenges of the future. Oregon businesses now and in the future will need communities that are safe for their workforces and potential clients.

"We are also extremely concerned by the board's undemocratic attempt to push through their politically-motivated agenda without input from the public. We can't let this spread any further."

The intent of the Every Student Belongs policy is, according to its language, to prevent students from experiencing discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin. It also prohibits the display of hate symbols such as the swastika, the Confederate flag and nooses.

"These symbols traumatize students and prevent student access and success," the BIPOC caucus said. "As school board members, parents and legislators, we are all responsible for keeping schools safe and doing everything we can to promote student success. Further, removing this policy would also be a disservice to all students and their families, who in a diversifying job market and world will not be as competitive as others who have the skills to work within and contribute to an inclusive environment."

Shannon responded to the caucus by arguing that the policy was passed in contravention of the school board's rules and policies. He and his like-minded colleagues on the board plan to move forward with Shannon's motions at the Aug. 10 board meeting despite widespread public backlash and condemnation.

"Board members were not allowed to propose amendments or even ask all their questions about the policy … the normal order of business per Robert's Rules was not followed and a proper vote to end debate was not taken," Shannon said. "Rather, the previous Chair (Brandy Penner) abused her power to force through the policy, even going so far as to mute a member's microphone when they objected. Policy ACB was illegally passed and, for this reason, at the next meeting I will be moving to rescind it and refer it back to the policy committee for further review.

"The Oregon Legislative BIPOC Caucus's press release did not address any of these procedural concerns that members have and seems to have been based largely on Internet gossip rather than the actual deliberations of the board. Frankly, I do not know why anyone would care what this group of Salem politicians has to say, given that they have helped preside over the complete degeneration of our state's largest, once-beautiful city of Portland. Maybe they should focus on fixing that, instead of injecting themselves into the business of a local school district that not one of them represents."

The BIPOC caucus argued that condemnation of Shannon and Brown's efforts should be universal among legislators as, in their view, partisan politics have no place on a school board.

"As a caucus, we remain committed to a more equitable education system that prioritizes student success and looks forward to taking action during next year's session to hold districts accountable," the caucus said. "We also call on state and community leaders to denounce the school board's actions. It is not 'partisan' to reject the type of hatred and bigotry Director Shannon and Chairman Brown are promoting. The goal of providing a quality education for all students should be nonpartisan, including addressing systemic barriers."

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