An Oregon school board has banned educators from displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, prompting a torrent of recriminations and threats to boycott the town and its businesses. Newberg, a town southwest of Portland, has become a focal point of debates between the left and right across the country over education and schooling. 

While the City Council, members of colour of the Oregon Legislature and House and Senate Democrats condemned the action, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is threatening to sue. The Oregon State Board of Education insisted that student identities should be welcomed, calling on the school board to reverse course. 

Brian Shannon, who proposed the ban, said “lawmakers from Portland should keep out of the school district's business and instead focus on Portland, where homelessness is an issue.”

Opponents say the board has emboldened racists. Robert Till, who is gay and a sophomore at Newberg High School, said he is embarrassed to live in Newberg. “A simple pride or BLM flag in a classroom shows the love and acceptance that we need," Till said. "Pride flags can literally save someone’s life, and you’re just going to take that away?”

School board chairman Dave Brown, declared he was not a racist, despite voting for the ban. 

“I work with and will always accept those around me no matter what," Brown said. "I don’t care if they’re gay. I don’t care if they’re white or brown or Black. I work with everybody.”

Shannon defended the ban and said, “I don’t think any of us can deny the fact that these symbols are divisive," Shannon said. "They’ve divided our community and gotten our attention away from where it needs to be, just teaching the basic fundamentals of education.”

Opponents have accused the board of being divisive and distracting from the challenges. 

“It has been difficult to see a community divided. You can see the anguish on both sides. It makes being an educator harder than it already was,” said a faculty member at Newberg High School.

In June 2020 — as Black Lives Matter protests roiled the nation after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — the board took a completely different stance, condemning racism and committing to being an anti-racist school district. But conservatives gained a majority in school board elections last May amid a light turnout, and everything changed. 

With Inputs from Associated Press