NEWBERG, Ore. — An employee of a public school district located southwest of Portland was placed on leave last Friday after showing up to work wearing blackface, according to district officials.
Newberg Public Schools said the employee was removed from school and placed on administrative leave by the district's Human Resources department.
"The administration of Newberg Public Schools condemns all expressions of racism," the District said in a statement. "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."
The Newberg Graphic reported Monday that the employee was a special education assistant at Mabel Rush Elementary School, who showed up "calling herself Rosa Parks" in protest against the state's vaccine mandate for K-12 school staff.
Over the past several months, Newberg Public Schools has become a flashpoint for culture war issues in Oregon. In August, the school board narrowly voted to ban "political symbols," including Black Lives Matter and Pride flags, which received condemnation from the Oregon State Board of Education.
“Now more than ever, we must work to ensure that our schools are safe and welcoming spaces for every student. We know that has not always been the case – in particular for our students of color, Indigenous, Tribal citizens, immigrants, English learners, and LGBTQ2SIA+ students, as well as our students who experience disability,” said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. “Student identity should be supported and celebrated, and we must recognize the unique needs and perspectives that our students bring.”
Just hours before the Newberg school board was to meet and discuss its ban on political symbols this month, the news broke that some students of Newberg High School were participating in a Snapchat group called "Slave Trade," where students ostensibly joked about how much they would pay for their Black classmates in a slave auction, among other racist topics.
In its statement on Monday, Newberg Public schools said that incident reports are taken seriously and they diligently follow 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," the District said. "Blackface has no place in our schools, and we are committed to the work of created spaces where every student belongs as we move forward together in our mission of educating students."