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Oregon school staffer on leave for wearing Rosa Parks blackface in vaccine protest

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A staffer at an Oregon elementary school showed up to work in blackface and was booted off campus for the “unfathomably offensive” gesture, district officials said.

Newberg Public Schools denounced the employee — who wasn’t identified by the district — in a statement Monday, days after the special education assistant at Mabel Rush Elementary School reportedly darkened her face with iodine on Friday to protest a looming vaccine mandate for public school workers.

“I am horrified, angry and ashamed that this happened, as is nearly every other staff member,” Superintendent Joe Morelock said. “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.”

The staffer, special education assistant Lauren Pefferle, donned blackface to look like civil rights icon Rosa Parks as a form of protest against Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate for all K-12 public school employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 18, the Newberg Graphic reported Monday.

A fellow staffer at the school who requested anonymity identified Pefferle to the weekly newspaper as the employee who showed up in blackface. District officials had said they would not identify the employee since it was a personnel matter, the outlet reported.

District officials said in a statement that the worker was “removed from the location” and later put on administrative leave.

According to the school district, Lauren Pefferle wore blackface to protest the COVID-19 vaccine likening it to when Rosa Parks protested on the bus.
According to the school district, Lauren Pefferle wore blackface to protest the COVID-19 vaccine likening it to when Rosa Parks (pictured) protested on the bus.
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

“It is important to remember how blackface has been used to misrepresent black communities and do harm,” district officials said. “We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.”

The troubling incident is the latest example of “racist behavior” in Newberg, Morelock said.

“We’ve seen some dehumanizing and deeply disturbing expressions of racism in recent days involving our district,” the superintendent said. “As always, our deepest concern is for the wellbeing of our students and our staff.”

Morelock’s statement did not detail those incidents, but a Newberg High School student was connected to a “slave trade” Snapchat group last week, which prompted a student-led protest, according to the Newberg Graphic.

The school board is also considering a ban on Black Lives Matter flags and pride displays, as well as other “political” symbols, the newspaper reported.

District spokesman Gregg Koselka said at a press conference Monday that no students witnessed Friday’s incident, The Oregonian reported. Koselka said he couldn’t say what might happen to the employee, but added that the staffer could face termination.

KATU reports that the district’s school board has set a special meeting for Wednesday for public comment on recent actions and upcoming decisions that may include the ban on political or controversial displays.

The state board of education has called on the Newberg school board to reverse course on the effort to ban the BLM flags, pride displays and any other perceived political symbols, The Oregonian reported Thursday.

The controversial policy was approved by Newberg’s school board in August and will be up for possible approval later this month, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

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