Oregon School Employee Suspended for Going to Work in Blackface

Newberg Public Schools decried the actions of the staff member that unfolded Friday

primary school students sit at their desks
Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

An employee at an elementary school outside Portland, Oregon, went to work in blackface last week and has been placed on administrative leave, according to a message from the district.

The employee of Mabel Rush Elementary School allegedly darkened her face to evoke the memory of civil rights icon Rosa Parks and protest a vaccination mandate for all public school employees in Oregon, the Newberg Graphic newspaper reported.

"It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm," the Newberg School District wrote in a statement. "We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention."

Gregg Koskela, communications coordinator for Newberg Public Schools, would not confirm whether the blackface was worn to protest the vaccination mandate, according to NBC News.

Public K-12 school employees in the state are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

The school board has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday night to take public comment on their “recent actions, tabled motions, and upcoming decisions that may include the ban on political or controversial displays, changes to the Anti-Racism Resolution 2020-04 language.”

In August, the school board voted to ban pride flags, flags reading Black Lives Matter and any broadly “political” signs, clothing, and other items. Supporters of the ban said the signs were “divisive,” and that signs don’t make people feel safe.

The action went against recent state efforts to highlight support for students, including the Oregon Department of Education’s Black Lives Matter October 2020 resolution and recent efforts to help LGBTQ+ students.

The Department of Education, the city of Newberg, the American Civil Liberties Union, some lawmakers and others have called for the board to reverse course.

Last week, NBC affiliate KGW reported that students from the district's high school were involved in a "Slave Trade" group chat, where they joked about how much they would pay for their Black classmates in a slave auction. 

"My heart is so broken for these kids who have gotten the message that they are not even seen as human by some of their fellow students," Heidi Pender, the mother of a Black student at the school, told KGW. "To imagine your own child being talked about as if they were subhuman slaves to be sold by other students, it made me feel like I was going to throw up."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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