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News >  Education

School employee goes to work in blackface, put on leave

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 20, 2021

By Lizzy Acker Oregonian

NEWBERG, Ore. – A staff member at Mabel Rush Elementary School came to work Friday in blackface, saying she was Rosa Parks and she was protesting mandatory vaccinations, according to the Newberg Graphic.

That report said another staff member at the school identified that woman as Lauren Pefferle, a special education teacher who darkened her face with iodine. The school district said it would not release the staffer’s name.

“I am horrified, angry and ashamed that this happened, as is nearly every other staff member,” said Newberg superintendent Joe Morelock in a statement. “The students of color in Newberg deserve so much more. This goes against everything I and the vast majority of NSD staff believe, and is unfathomably offensive.”

At a news conference Monday, district spokesperson Gregg Koskela said that no students witnessed the incident.

Koskela said he couldn’t comment on specific investigations but did add, “Our range of responses does include termination as an option for certain situations.”

The incident came to light as a conservative majority on the Newberg school board prepares a meeting on a policy that would ban Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols in classrooms.

Proponents of the ban, including parents who testify in its favor and board members seeking to institute it, have regularly pushed back against charges of systemic racism in the Yamhill County community and dismiss racist incidents as one-offs.

But last week, The Newberg Graphic reported that at least one student at Newberg High School was part of a Snapchat group called “Slave Trade,” in which teenagers from different parts of the country share racist, homophobic and violent messages, sometimes specifically targeting Black students.

“The employee was removed from the location, and HR has placed the employee on administrative leave,” the Newberg School District said in a Monday statement acknowledging the blackface incident. “The administration of Newberg Public Schools condemns all expressions of racism.”

“It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.”

The district said that all reported incidents were taken seriously and investigated.

“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 statement 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.”

At the news conference, Morelock said, “When harmful actions like this come to the surface and the traumatic impacts of those actions are realized, we all, children and adults can work toward improving the environment and the supports we employ for each and every student, no matter their identity.”

“I am absolutely committed to doing this work. Let’s do it together,” he added.

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