A staff member at Mabel Rush Elementary School in Newberg showed up to work in Blackface on Friday, calling herself Rosa Parks and doing so in protest of a vaccine mandate for all school district staff.
A fellow staff member at the school who provided initial information on the incident said Lauren Pefferle “a special education assistant who the school district said it would not name due to it being a personnel matter“ darkened her face with iodine.
The concerned staff member, who requested anonymity for this story, said Pefferle explained her reasoning: that she intended to look like Rosa Parks and have her actions serve as a protest of a vaccine mandate. Pefferle was soon removed from school grounds and placed on administrative leave, according to a district statement.
“Last Friday, one of our employees reported for work in Blackface,” district’s statement said. “The employee was removed from the location and (human resources) has placed the employee on administrative leave. The administration of Newberg Public Schools 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.
“Each incident report is always taken seriously as we diligently follow our policies to investigate and take appropriate action. We continue to work towards a safe and welcoming environment in our schools that is free from bullying and reduces mental, emotional and physical harm as we move forward together in our mission of educating students.”
The Blackface incident comes after a Newberg High School student was recently connected to a racist “slave trade” Snapchat group, a protest occurred in solidarity with Newberg’s Black students by a visiting girls soccer team, and the school board’s months-long controversial attempt to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride displays among other perceived “political” symbols.
Tai Harden-Moore, a Black woman and former candidate for school board who has children in the district, said she believes Newberg can and must be better than this incident. She drew a connection from county politics to Pefferle’s actions.
“This makes sense only because we have our county commissioner, Mary Starrett, who drew that line between vaccine mandates and Jim Crow,” Harden-Moore said. “That was only a couple months ago. Our county leadership is saying basic public health measures are akin to Jim Crow. There is a line between our political leadership and something like this happening. Our leadership matters.”