Newberg Community Demands School District ‘Bring Back Joe’
On Nov. 9, late into the evening, the Newberg School Board voted 4-3 to remove Superintendent Dr. Joe Morelock. Two days later, on Nov. 11—Veterans Day—the community responded in protest outside of the district office demanding that the board “Bring Back Joe.”
Morelock had served as the superintendent since June 2018 and during that time he made a large impact on the community. The sudden vote to remove him came as quite a shock.
School board member Brandy Penner said that the “no cause” termination had “immediate impacts on both staff and students.” She said “people are hurting, people are scared, and there is a great amount of uncertainty going forward.” Morelock’s firing falls on the heels of other last-minute decisions made by the school board over the last few months.
Beginning in June, the board considered a ban on certain symbols and images from school property — specifically those in support of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ community. That decision prompted the Newberg Education Association to file a tort claim notifying the district of their intentions to sue for First Amendment rights violations.
When the board voted on the ban in September, the policy had been changed to banning images that could be considered “political” or “controversial.” It passed with a vote of 4-3.
On Nov. 9, the decision to remove Morelock was added to the agenda during the meeting. Both Rebecca Piros and Penner motioned to table the decision requesting more time to review the packet material in an effort to make an informed decision.
That motion failed and after 10:30 p.m., the board cast the deciding vote, effectively terminating Morelock.
Penner said that the loss of Morelock is hitting the community hard. He is deeply involved not just as the superintendent but he is also the president of the Newberg Rotary Club.
She reached out to staff at the district’s schools the following day and let them know that the teachers would need “grace and patience to get through the day.” She said Wednesday was a “rough day.”
Local community member Dr. Sami Al-Abdrabbuh said that the board bypassed “their professional responsibility of setting goals, evaluating the superintendent according to those goals, and giving feedback accordingly.” He believes that while the board went the “easy way,” this decision will not be easy for “administrators, teachers, students, or families.”
“Years of progress have, really, been dismantled in one action from the Newberg members who voted to move forward with the termination,” said Al-Abdrabbuh. “Terminating a superintendent is a very, very serious matter, we don’t do it lightly.”
On Wednesday, Newberg Equity in Education, or NEEd, posted on Facebook requesting community members, administrators, staff, and students to show up in support of Joe Morelock.
Thursday’s protest was led by U.S. Armed Forces Veteran Ian D. McDonough who felt it was important that the protest occur on Veterans Day. “As one who has worn the uniform of my country, and willingly put myself at risk, I find no better day than Veteran’s Day to reaffirm my oath and remind others that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” he said.
“I do not and cannot speak for all veterans. But as one veteran alone I can denounce the discriminatory, racist, and irresponsible actions taken by four members of the Newberg School District Board of Directors,” said McDonough. He believes that the actions taken on Tuesday go against the very platform those members ran on, which promised “empowerment to students and taxpayers by exposing corruption, mismanagement, and misleading curriculum that damages school districts and harms communities.”
The protest began at 12 p.m. and speakers from all over the community spoke to the large crowd gathered in the rain. Oregon House Representative Courtney Neron gave her thanks to McDonough for organizing the day’s events along with all those who have served in the armed forces.
“Today on Veterans Day, a veteran has called us here to say that this is the work. Democracy is worth defending, you are the key to supporting our shared vision of peace and justice,” she said.
Neron said that as a Spanish teacher and representative on the House Committee on Education, she knows first-hand how important it is to create a safe and welcoming environment for students. She told the students that they have allies in the house legislature and they are working on protective district stabilizing policies for their meetings in 2022 and, again, in 2023.
“I am here to stand with you, Newberg, as you protest the actions of the four. I stand with Queer students and students of color. I see you and I value you and I support you,” she said.
Current gubernatorial candidate and Yamhill County Commissioner, Casey Kulla also spoke to the crowd in support. He said that he was so proud to be part of a community who “continue to show up” in the face of hate.
“I never thought I would cry over a superintendent let alone know their name,” Kulla said He added that Morelock is the “most amazing superintendent” he’s ever known or worked with before.
During the protest, volunteers passed around a petition demanding that the board reinstate Morelock as superintendent. Another petition passed around was one to recall Brian Shannon, the school board vice chair. Kristen Stoller, president of the Newberg Education Foundation urged the crowd to sign these petitions as a way to send a message to the board.
“Sign the ‘recall Brian Shannon campaign,’ send signals that you are not okay with the way they are acting and decisions they are making,” said Stoller. She said the events of Tuesday evening undermine the work they have done over the last three years to make the district better “with bridges Dr. Joe built.”
Those efforts were fully supported by local business owner John Peterson of Pollinate Flowers. Peterson said that the actions of the board do not represent Newberg and that those present represented “Newberg at it’s best.”
Al-Abdrabbuh also supports those efforts. He hopes that with these actions, Tuesday’s meeting will serve as an example of how “not to conduct board meetings.”
Other speakers included students from the middle school and high school who expressed their gratitude to supporters and their concerns for the future.
Dr. Joe Morelock was last to speak as the crowd cheered him on. He thanked all those who have served in the armed forces for their sacrifices and took a moment to acknowledge the land belonging to the Native Kalapuya and other Indigenous Peoples.
Morelock also expressed his gratitude towards students, staff, councilors, and principals, who welcomed him in and “show up every single day to support the kids through all the darkness that happens.” He said that the last few years have been a really difficult journey for everybody and he wanted to remind everyone how important it is to support the children, “each and every single day.”
He reiterated his sentiments from Tuesday, by saying that “through the darkest darks comes the brightest light.” He believes that those present in support of their kids are that light and there will be better days ahead.