State Board of Education prohibits hate symbols in Oregon schools
Friday, September 18, 2020
Oregon students have been central to many of the Black Lives Matter protests, and their voices have pushed the state to adopt a new policy against hate symbols in schools. (June file photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
A new state rule requires Oregon school districts to create policies by Jan. 1 that prohibit hate symbols in schools.
“This is really coming from students,” said Parkrose School Board Chair Sonja Mckenzie. “We are simply creating this policy to support them so they can go to school in an environment free of bias and fear.”
Mckenzie said she hopes the “All Students Belong” administrative rule adopted Thursday by the State Board of Education starts a conversation that leads into a larger discussion on racial equity. Mckenzie is an OSBA Board member and a director for the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
The Oregon Department of Education filed a temporary rule with the secretary of state Friday.
“Our students called us out and into action,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said in a news release. “The noose, Confederate flag and swastika are being used to bully and harm students and staff, and this is particularly true for students of color. Students must feel like they are safe and belong in their own schools if they are to learn, work and grow to their fullest potential.”
The rule is the first of its kind in the nation, according to a news release from Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend. Helt, who is on the education board, said she plans to propose state legislation to ban the symbols.
The rule requires schools to implement policies that prohibit the use of hate symbols, including specifically the ones Gill named, in any school-sponsored activities or on school grounds, except where part of a teaching curriculum.
The rule requires school districts to affirm that all students and staff – regardless of race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin – deserve an environment free of discrimination or harassment.
Schools must also develop procedures for addressing bias incidents and preventing further harm. All persons impacted must be provided with information about the investigation and district actions.
OSBA supports the new rule and is partnering with ODE to implement it, according to OSBA Policy Services Director Spencer Lewis. His department is working on guidance to be released soon.
“We hope that it creates more welcoming schools for all students,” Lewis said.
Athena-Weston School Board Chair Scott Rogers said he is optimistic the new rule will be received positively in his community.
“Symbols of hate have no place in our schools, urban or rural,” said Rogers, OSBA Board secretary-treasurer.
Some Oregon school districts have already passed similar policies.
The Tigard-Tualatin School Board passed a bias incidents and hate speech policy in August. Students pressed for a resolution as the Black Lives Matter protests began, and board member Ben Bowman collaborated with students and the community to craft the policy. Bowman, an ODE operations and policy analyst, worked closely on the state rule.
Tigard-Tualatin Board Chair Maureen Wolf said community engagement for racial equity and anti-bias work can be hard. Parents have been passionate and vocal. By far though, the loudest voices have been those wanting the policy and for the district to do more to support students, Wolf said. The new state policy is important for advancing equity work, she said.
“It’s making a statement: ‘Enough, we’re done,’” said Wolf, OSBA Board president-elect. “Every child has a right to experience their school day free from racist comments, harassment, anything that pulls them out and doesn’t include them.”