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Board members unanimously ban hate symbols, adopt system of 'restorative justice' response over 'punitive' action

PMG FILE PHOTO - Under new policy, the Oregon Trail School District has banned Confederate flag, swastika images from campuses, an act students have been protesting for this summer in the name of racial equity and student safety. This summer, as protests calling for an end to police brutality against the Black community took hold across the country, a handful of students from Sandy High stepped forward with their own platform. Besides marching at local Sandy Stand Up Movement events to show solidarity with the anti-racism campaign, the student group called Students Advocating For Equality (SAFE), circulated a petition calling on the Oregon Trail School District to ban the Confederate flag from campuses, create positions of leadership for students of color and students of the LGBTQIA+ community and create a system that would educate rather than traditionally punish those who used hate speech or toted hate symbols (like the Confederate flag) at school.

The board's initial response was to issue a resolution condemning racism, similar to one passed by Sandy City Council in July, but no bans were implemented.

In September, the Oregon Department of Education implemented a ban on hate speech and symbols, tasking all districts with revising their own policies to fit this new mandate by Jan. 1, 2021. This mandate was in response to not only the SAFE campaign but the requests and protests of several students across the state for Oregon to meet the moment in a national push for anti-racism education.

On Nov. 9, the Oregon Trail School Board approved a new policy to ban the Confederate flag and other hate symbols on campuses and also implement an educational response to use of such language and images.

"The policy, with the exception of one insert, is identical to what the state posted," Superintendent Aaron Bayer told the board on Monday night. "The reason we had the insert is that the state suggested that the district give reason why you believe there might be a reasonable forecast of a substantial disruption, so we added a brief that says 'It is the district's belief that the historical occurrences of violence stemming from these symbols of hate in the display thereof interferes with the rights of students to have a productive school experience and is cause to reasonably forecast that the display of these symbols would trigger a substantial disruption.' That is the only change and it was an addition that we made to the policy; we didn't subtract anything else from this policy."

PMG FILE PHOTO - SAFE leaders have been protesting since June to have OTSD ban hate symbols and make schools more inclusive. When Board Member Nicole O'Neill asked about what action would be taken in response to violations of this policy, Bayer said the language used was what Oregon School Board Association recommended and action was meant to be educational rather than punitive.

"They want (the language of the policy) to not be punitive," Bayer said. "They don't want you to suspend students right away. They don't want you to involve any action that might find a student getting a disciplinary record if they, for reason, violate this policy. So, they want more of a restorative justice practice instead of a punitive practice."

Leaders of the SAFE group were pleased by the adoption of the policy locally, though they see the action as one step forward and not the end of the conversation on how to make schools a more inclusive, safe space.

"We are beyond thrilled at the passage of this rule," said SAFE co-leader Molly Izer. "This is a long overdue and necessary step, and we are proud of the students and educators alike who advocated for its implementation, particularly the student who wrote to Governor Brown."

"We are particularly pleased with the clause implying that instead of punitive punishments, offenders would receive restorative education," she added. "This is an important distinction; traditional punishments are not effective when it comes to teaching people why their actions are hurtful and harmful. In an educational environment in which equity curriculum is lacking, this is the next best step."

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