Oregon School District Ban on Political Symbols Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules


A Newberg school district policy banning employees from displaying “political” or “controversial” signs including pride and Black Lives Matter flags violates the Oregon constitution, a Yamhill County judge ruled Thursday.

Teacher Chelsea Shotts, represented by the ACLU of Oregon and lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine, sued the district and board members last year. A community member had complained under the policy about a sign in Shott’s window, featuring a rainbow and the words “be known.” Shott’s lawsuit asked the court to declare that the sign was protected by the Oregon Constitution’s provisions for free expression.

Shotts won the argument that the policy restricts free expression, protected by Oregon’s free speech provisions, which are stronger than those in the U.S. Constitution.

The ACLU will not comment on the case until Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Easterday issues a written order, spokeswoman Christina Nguyen said. Easterday announced her ruling verbally, and the outcome was briefly noted in court documents.

A lawyer for the school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The Newberg policy ignited controversy in the district. After enacting the policy, board members abruptly fired former superintendent Joe Morelock.

A separate lawsuit against the ban on employees’ display of political messages at school by the district’s teachers union is winding through federal court and is not yet resolved.