A staff member at an elementary school in suburban Portland, Ore., has been suspended after reporting for work in blackface last week, in an apparent protest against the school district’s vaccine mandate for employees.
The woman showed up dressed as Rosa Parks with her face darkened with dye to protest a vaccination mandate for all public school employees in Oregon, the Newberg Graphic newspaper reported.
The school district confirmed the blackface incident on Monday, saying the employee was removed from Mabel Rush Elementary School and placed on administrative leave. In a statement, the district said it “condemns all expressions of racism.”
“It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm. We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention,” the statement read.
Gregg Koskela, communications coordinator for Newberg Public Schools, declined to confirm whether the blackface was worn to protest the vaccination mandate.
“We are not commenting on the intention of the employee, as it does not matter: The action itself is unacceptable,” he said in an email to The Washington Post.
Oregon’s governor announced last month that all teachers, staff and volunteers in the state’s public schools must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
Many school districts are mandating vaccination for school faculty and staff members, as experts and officials worry the surging and highly contagious delta variant could upend yet another school year. In California, Washington and several other states, the requirement is statewide. Some jurisdictions allow exemptions for those willing to undergo weekly coronavirus testing, but Oregon does not.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that all teachers and school staff and early child-care workers in the district must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1, eliminating a testing option for these professionals who regularly interact with children who are often too young to be vaccinated.
Measures to contain the coronavirus remain contentious, however. In some parts of the country, debates over whether to require face coverings in schools have stirred turbulent school board meetings, lawsuits, fistfights and knockdown, drag-out conflicts between Republican governors banning mask mandates and local leaders who want them.
The blackface incident is the latest in a string of controversies at the Oregon school district. It occurred in the same week that students at Newberg High School allegedly participated in a racist Snapchat group called “Slave Trade,” where students reportedly joked about how much they’d pay to own Black classmates.
“We’ve seen some dehumanizing and deeply disturbing expressions of racism in recent days involving our district,” Newberg School District Superintendent Joe Morelock said in a statement on Monday. “I am horrified, angry and ashamed that this happened.”