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The racist incident is only the latest in a local string of controversies regarding the Newberg School District.

COURTESY PHOTO: NEWBERG SCHOOL DISTRICT - A staff member at Mabel Rush Elementary School in Newberg showed up to work in blackface on Friday, according to officials.

A staff member at Mabel Rush Elementary School in Newberg showed up to work in blackface on Friday, calling herself Rosa Parks and doing so in protest of a vaccine mandate for all school district staff.

A fellow staff member at the school who provided initial information on the incident said Lauren Pefferle — a special education assistant — darkened her face with iodine.

The school district said it would not name the employee due to it being a personnel matter.

The concerned staff member, who requested anonymity for this story, said Pefferle explained her reasoning: that she intended to look like Rosa Parks and have her actions serve as a protest of a vaccine mandate. Pefferle was soon removed from school grounds and placed on administrative leave, according to a district statement.

"Last Friday, one of our employees reported for work in blackface," district's statement said. "The employee was removed from the location and (human resources) has placed the employee on administrative leave. The administration of Newberg Public Schools condemns all expressions of racism.

"It is important to remember how blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm. We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.

"Each incident report is always taken seriously as we diligently follow our policies to investigate and take appropriate action. We continue to work towards a safe and welcoming environment in our schools that is free from bullying and reduces mental, emotional and physical harm as we move forward together in our mission of educating students."

The Blackface incident comes amid a string of news-making incidents in the school district related to race and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, a Newberg High School student was connected to a racist 'slave trade' Snapchat group, resulting in a student-led protest during a sporting event in solidarity with Newberg's Black students; and a controversial decision by the school board has led to a months-long battle to ban Black Lives Matter flags, Pride displays and other perceived "political" symbols.

Tai Harden-Moore, a Black woman and former candidate for school board who has children in the district, said she believes Newberg can and must be better than this incident. She drew a connection from county politics to Pefferle's actions.

"This makes sense only because we have our county commissioner, Mary Starrett, who drew that line between vaccine mandates and Jim Crow," Harden-Moore said. "That was only a couple months ago. Our county leadership is saying basic public health measures are akin to Jim Crow. There is a line between our political leadership and something like this happening. Our leadership matters."

Superintendent Joe Morelock, in speaking at a press conference in Newberg, said: "I am horrified, angry and ashamed this has happened, as is nearly every other staff member. This goes against everything I and the vast majority of NSD staff have believed and it is unfathomably offensive.

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