The Oregon State Board of Education on Thursday passed a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, declaring state education officials’ commitment to anti-racism, equity and full access to education.
“All students belong in Oregon schools. Sometimes, that means telling one student they belong and that they matter when they need to hear it,” said Chair Kimberly Howard. “Sometimes, that means telling a group of students that they matter when they have heard and felt the opposite for far too long.”
The resolution “strongly supports” justice and dignity for all Black people, and urges Oregon schools to take action in support of their Black students, teachers, and community members by strengthening avenues of support for those who experience harassment, bullying, or racial hatred.
“We cannot be silent in response to the racism that students and staff experience in Oregon’s schools,” said Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. “The Oregon Department of Education is committed to ensuring that Oregon’s schools are safe and inclusive for all students and staff, and that means conclusively and repeatedly saying, ‘Yes, we affirm the dignity and humanity of Black people.’
“That’s what Black Lives Matter means, as a statement of love and justice. And love and justice are the side of history we all need to be on.”
ODE said that the resolution follows similar steps taken by school officials across the country, including in Baltimore, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
The resolution coincided with a joint letter supporting the resolution from the State Board of Education, ODE, the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Education Association, the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), the Oregon School Employees Association, the Oregon School Activities Association, the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts and the Oregon Association of Student Councils.
“We fully support Black Lives Matter as a civil rights movement that aims to combat racism and support Black individuals,” said Jim Green, executive director of the OSBA. “We stand beside Black Lives Matter, as a statement of social justice and an affirmation of the value and worth of Black people.”
The Oregon State Board of Education recently adopted state rules that prohibit the display of certain hate symbols, including the noose, swastika, and confederate flag in school settings with a new school safety initiative called All Students Belong.
“Black Lives Matter is the opposite of those prohibited symbols; it is a statement of love and acceptance, not a symbol of hate,” the letter said.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” and Black Lives Matter symbols, on the other hand, are permitted in school settings, according to Oregon education officials — though the letter encourages school districts to consult with their legal counsel to develop policy.
“To many educators, Black Lives Matter demonstrates to all of our students that racism has no place in our schools or society,” the letter said. “It shows Black students that they matter in our classrooms. Calling attention to racism has a place in our schools because we know that systemic racism and bias continue to hurt students, families, and staff who are Black, Indigenous, Native American, and people of color.”
In Oregon, Black students are disproportionately impacted by suspension and expulsion, and they are less likely to graduate from high school.
“These facts do not align with our core values of excellence and equity in education,” the letter said. That is why we say that Black Lives Matter.”
The officials and educator groups that signed the letter acknowledged that that Black Lives Matter “elicits many different points of view,” and said their support of the movement is “not intended to generate guilt or shame for white students and communities.”
“Little positive change can come from the negative space of guilt and shame,” the letter continued. “However, when we recognize that the current systems we live in are deeply rooted in history and were created to benefit some more than others, together we can take the necessary steps to rectify this long-standing injustice and dismantle systemic racism in our society.”
Canby has been spared the unrest that has sometimes accompanied Black Lives Matter demonstrations in larger urban areas, but the movement has been felt here. A vigil was held to honor slain Minnesotan George Floyd at Wait Park in June, while a group of high school students and young people carrying Black Lives Matter banners and signs peacefully confronted a much larger group that gathered there four month later for a pro-police event.
More recently, a Canby School Board member shared concerns about Black Lives Matter messages appearing within the district’s facilities and virtual learning environment.