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Oregon Bans Confederate Flag, Other Hate Symbols From Public Schools

Demonstrators carry Confederate flags as they leave the entrance of the South Carolina Statehouse after the removal of the flag in Columbia, S.C., on July 1, 2000.
Demonstrators carry Confederate flags as they leave the entrance of the South Carolina Statehouse after the removal of the flag in Columbia, S.C., on July 1, 2000.

The State Board of Education approved a temporary rule, banning the Confederate flag, swastika and noose from the state's public schools.

Oregon’s state board of education took a big step this week toward banning hate symbols, including the Confederate flag, from the state’s more than 1,200 public school buildings. The new policy, enshrined through a temporary rule called “All Students Belong,” also prohibits swastikas and nooses.

“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,” said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill in a statement after the rule was approved. “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.”

Gill added it was the responsibility of education officials “to make sure that all of our school communities feel safe and welcomed.”

The rule says it is state policy to ensure students, staff and visitors can experience a public school environment “that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment, and intimidation.” It goes on to say state law forbids “discrimination in any public elementary, secondary or community college education program or service [...] where the program, service, school or activity is financed” by state tax dollars.

In that light, the state board’s new temporary rule argues “the presence of symbols of hate [...] including the noose, swastika, or confederate flag” contribute to “disruption” of learning and add to “an atmosphere of fear and intimidation,” which in turn denies students full access to the education they’re entitled.

The rule took effect immediately, and it calls for school districts to have policies in compliance by Jan. 1. A statement from ODE indicates the state board intends to take up a permanent rule in the months to come.

The ban already has the support of some state lawmakers, which could result in its enshrinement in state law.

Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, sits on the state Board of Education as the designee of Secretary of State Bev Clarno. Helt released a statement offering support for the new rule and a pledge to introduce legislation in the 2021 session to outlaw hate symbols. She said she’s joined in support by two of her House colleagues from the southern Oregon coast: Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford.

“The Confederate flag is a symbol of treason, racism and white supremacy,” Helt said. “It has no place in Oregon.”

This story may be updated.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Rob Manning is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Rob has reported extensively on Oregon schools and universities as OPB's education reporter and is now a news editor.