PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An Oregon school district is investigating a student’s involvement in a racist group on social media.
A concerned student at Newberg High School recently shared screenshots online that show a fellow student’s racial slurs and homophobic comments posted in the Snapchat group called “Slave Trade.”
Newberg High School Principal Tami Erion confirmed in a letter sent to parents and staff on Tuesday that the district learned of the student’s involvement in the group last week. Erion said school officials immediately began investigating the “serious and inappropriate incident.”
Erion’s statement reads in part: “We are deeply dismayed that this behavior and activity was exhibited by someone from our community. We condemn actions such as these which represent the antithesis of what we believe and where we stand as a Newberg Nation family. As a community, we continue to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Newberg High School is committed to ensuring that ALL students are afforded a safe learning environment by prohibiting harassment based upon gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or disability.”
Oregon House Majority Leader and Education House Committee Chair Barbara Smith Warner along with House Education Committee Chair Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, responded to the incident in a statement, saying the student involved in the Snapchat group joked about “auctioning off Black classmates.”
“Incidents like this are exactly what make Black students feel like their lives don’t matter. As House Majority Leader and Chair of the House Education Committee, we stand with you and affirm that Black Lives Matter and Black Students’ Lives Matter,” wrote Warner and Alonso Leon.
“The slave trade was the genesis of centuries of genocide and violence against Black communities, displacing, enslaving and harming millions of families. If we are to heal as a state and as a country, then we must understand our history and how violence has been used to oppress BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities to this day,” they wrote.
At a Newberg School Board meeting Tuesday night, concerned parents spoke out about the social media posts.
“The fact that a student in our community felt comfortable enough to take part in such a disgusting behavior is a clear illustration of the racism and discrimination that plagues this community,” said Tai Harden-Moore.
Newberg father Brandon Casey said, “A kid makes a really poor decision and a bad decision — that needs to be addressed. If that’s what happened, that doesn’t mean that the town is some horrible systemically racist thing.”
In their statement, Warner and Alonso Leon also encouraged policies that ban symbols of hate and urged the Newberg School Board to rescind a ban on Black Lives Matter and Pride signs and to “refocus on creating a safe, welcoming environment for students.”
The board is embroiled in a controversy over its ban of LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags and symbols on school grounds.
The board passed the ban in a 4-3 vote in August. Those in favor of it said BLM and Pride symbols are political and have no place in public schools.
“The timing of it, especially with everything that’s going on with the school districts out here, I think kind of shows that we need to be showing kids that we need to be empathetic towards others,” said Newberg resident Kendall Hazel.
Many BLM and Pride flags could be seen outside Newberg homes on Tuesday. Chalk art messages supporting the BLM movement and rejecting hate were left outside Newberg High School.
“We remain deeply concerned with the direction the board is going, but regarding the lawsuit, we are still working closely with attorneys from multiple parties to make sure it is as strong as possible,” Drew Gallagher, vice president of the Newberg Education Association, said in a statement shared with KOIN. “We posted a comment on our FB page because, you might not be aware, but the board just changed its policy that the board chair now has the ability to vet public comments and potential commenters must indicate their topic of choice and their opinion on the topic in order for the chair to allow them the ability to speak publically [sic], which as you can imagine, is unimaginably authoritarian, disheartening, and frightening.”
Erion said in the statement that an investigation is ongoing and that the school is “following board policy as it relates to harassment, bullying and potential disciplinary actions.”