Investigation

A School Board Banned Ideology From Classrooms. The Schools Simply Ignored It.

‘Our hope was to get back to a neutral learning environment'

   DailyWire.com
High school student filling out test answers with pen
Ridofranz via Getty Images

Correction: Our original publication contained factual errors, which we would like to correct. A previous version of this article said that Yamhill County Democrats, Progressive Yamhill, and NEEd unveiled a PAC to recall Dave Brown. It should have said that members of those groups helped collect signatures for the school board recalls. Furthermore, the previous version stated that the book club was hosted in schools and taught contentious books, referred to a group called Private Citizens of Newberg, called Ron Mock a progressive, and referred to Sean Devine as an actor and stuntman. The book club was part of the city library, not the schools; the private citizens were merely private citizens, not an official group; Mock is an independent who voted for a progressive policy; and Devine is a filmmaker, not a stuntman. Tai Harden-Moore was previously referred to as a CRT consultant; we have revised it to note that she identifies herself as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant. The article also misidentified when voting ended; it ended on January 18. Lastly, actress Rosario Dawson was referred to as the ex-boyfriend of Cory Booker; she is his ex-girlfriend. We regret these errors.

After politics in the classroom got out of hand in one center-right Oregon town – with some students even allegedly forced to pledge allegiance to the gay pride flag – the school board sought to return to the basics by declaring that school should be politically neutral. But administrators and educators simply declined to enforce the policy, while progressive activists tried to destroy the board members’ lives, a Daily Wire investigation has found. 

Last year, four Newberg Public Schools (NPS) board members drew a line in the sand against what they viewed as indoctrination. After years of schools proudly flying the “progressive flag,” a version of the gay pride flag with shades of black and brown to communicate minority oppression, as well as Black Lives Matter (BLM) flags, the members voted in August 2021 to ban “political” flags, signs, and clothing. 

Leadership at NPS is defying the policy. The board members are being targeted by a mob of wealthy progressives, and one has been fired from his job after being doxxed. 

Teachers in Yamhill County are not facing repercussions for continuing to prioritize propaganda over learning. “I’ve filed complaints,” said Robyn Wheatley, who has two kids in NPS. “I’ve emailed so many different teachers. And they literally ignore me every time.”

Teachers unions are seeking to remove the board members from office, as well as suing them. Outside cash from Hollywood celebrities has bankrolled a recall effort, for which voting ends January 18. 

What follows is a story about a small town on the outskirts of Portland. It is a story of an educational “deep state,” cancel culture, and how the rich and famous are trying to capture it. 

A Summer of Rage

Newberg has voted red in every presidential election since 2000. But judging by its schools, you wouldn’t know it. Over the last several years, BLM and progressive flags began to decorate the halls and classrooms. 

At the same time, schools suffered a decline. The district has lost students each year since 2018, shrinking from nearly 5,000 students in 2018 to 4,338 last year. One fed-up mother says this is because schools have embraced indoctrination over academics. 

In June 2020, the then-NPS board passed an anti-racism resolution like many other districts nationwide. A month later, a group called Newberg Equity in Education (NEEd) launched with a private Facebook group. The group, which includes teachers union members and elected officials, declared that it wishes to convince the then progressive-majority school board “to adopt Critical Race Theory.”

In August 2020, NEEd members created something called The Antiracism Family Book Club at the city library, a book club that included contentious books such as one titled Stamped and other works by prominent critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi. “I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people,” Kendi writes in the introduction of Stamped. 

A student union was also formed for only those “who identify themselves as black” at Newberg High School. Sources familiar with the situation indicate it is used for the whole district.

“It was very evident that teachers had an agenda to push,” Amber Dawson, a mother who now drives her kids 35 minutes to school each day after pulling them out of NPS, told The Daily Wire. 

“My kids are no longer in a place where learning is the focus,” wrote a Newberg mother in an op-ed describing why she pulled her kids from the district. “Doesn’t it feel like the kids, regardless of identity or color, are being used as pawns to further the divide? This is about learning, and our schools are failing our kids and generations to come. We owe it to our children to do better and be better.”

To some parents, it seemed clear there was no choice but to eradicate politics from the classroom in a clear and overarching way. In 2021, Trevor DeHart decided to run for school board. 

“Our hope was to get back to a neutral learning environment and then, you know, pivot to focus on improving academic performance and opportunities for kids,” DeHart, a manufacturing engineer and military veteran who pulled his kids from NPS, told The Daily Wire. “We were inundated and barraged with all this other distracting stuff.”

Renee Powell, a freelance artist, ran on a similar platform saying she wanted to “be there for all children and get the schools back to focus on academics and not politics.” 

“Our academics have dropped and our test scores have dropped and all the focus seems to be on politics,” Powell said. 

Voters agreed. In July 2021, DeHart and Powell won seats on the board, joining Dave Brown and Brian Shannon, who had similar views. Independent incumbent Ron Mock, who voted for a progressive policy, was ousted and Tai Harden-Moore, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant who conducted an “equity assessment” for the city of Newberg, lost her bid for a seat on the seven-person board. 

A Resolution

That meant voters had decided to empower a school board majority that believed schools should be apolitical. But NEEd, the Yamhill County Democrats, and Progressive Yamhill – an affiliate of the George Soros-linked group Indivisible – mobilized to attack the board members.

Dave Brown, a veteran varsity athletic coach who used to work in Newberg and now coaches 20 minutes away, had always been a pillar of the community. Suddenly, bogus rumors started swirling around, like that he and Shannon were cheating on their wives and getting divorced.

Board members started getting calls throughout the night from enraged voices on the other line. Friends started ghosting them out of fear of association. 

Still, in August 2021, the four introduced a resolution called “Staff Participation in Political Activities.” It was adopted in September.

No employee will use district facilities, equipment or supplies in connection with his/her political activities, nor will he/she use any time during the workday for such political activities.

No district employee shall, while acting within the scope of their employment, either during school hours, or inside their physical area of responsibility at a school (such as a classroom, meeting room, desk area) hang, post, erect, or otherwise display (hereafter “display”) any posters, signs, flags, banners, pictures or other digital or physical image that depicts support or opposition relating to a political, quasipolitical, or controversial topic.

To the board members, the resolution was a nonpartisan move. Given schools are tasked with educating kids and not producing political activists, it seemed hard to disagree with.

A Superintendent

But Joe Morelock, a career educator who had been superintendent of Newberg Public Schools for about two years, refused to enforce the ban – even after NPS attorney Lisa Freiley informed him over email the divisive symbols ban “most likely will withstand a constitutional challenge.”

Teachers followed his lead. In September, English teacher Gail Grobey, a former teachers union president, told the school board she went so far as to remove the American flag from her classroom, saying the American flag is the “most political symbol there is.” She claimed it was “terrifying” to see DeHart on Zoom board meetings with the flag behind him. One parent told The Daily Wire Grobey made students pledge allegiance to the pride flag. 

In an email to The Daily Wire, Grobey said, “There is a flag in my room hanging on the wall as Oregon law dictates. I do not have a pride flag, or any flag of any other sort in my room. If you would consider that the people informing you have NEVER been in my classroom, this ‘conversation’ would be moot. I am done responding to you. I do enjoy fiction, but the stuff you people are crafting is dangerous.”

Middle school principal Casey Petrie told a parent who filed a complaint about BLM signs: “I do not find these signs to be political in nature” and “As a result, I will not require these signs to be removed.” Petrie is a NEEd member and also posted on Facebook on November 13, “#PROUDLYDEFIANT We Support Dr. Joe Morelock.”

One teacher, Angie Spracher, made a Tiktok flaunting her defiance of the policy. She also allegedly removed the American flag from her class.

Below are pictures obtained by The Daily Wire of teachers defying the school board’s ban policy months after it passed. 

Credit: No Left Turn in Education

Credit: No Left Turn In Education

On November 9, the school board voted to terminate Morelock, 4 to 3. Dave Brown later told the community that the firing had to do with the district’s “first and foremost” role of educating kids and rejecting “politics and adult agendas.” He wrote:

This year has seen a precipitous drop in enrollment resulting in 241 students below projections. Many of the parents have made the hard choice to pursue other educational avenues for their children. The cost of this is staggering and it happens far too often. We have lost great staff members and will continue to lose staff who do not feel safe in our schools due to the political climate that exists today and has been fostered for far too long.

But even after Morlock was fired, he doubled down. While a memo claims November 19 was Morelock’s last day, he responded to a parental complaint about BLM signs on November 21.

“After reviewing the items you referenced and speaking with the principal and staff member(s), I have determined that these symbols are not political, quasi-political, or controversial, and should not be removed,” he wrote. 

With Morelock gone and an interim superintendent in place, little changed. To this day, there is a sign hanging at a district middle school that says “We [heart] Dr. Joe,” referring to Morelock. There is a BLM poster hanging next to it.

Newberg Public Schools did not respond to several Daily Wire requests for comment. 

“It’s a very woke administration,” Michelle Walker, founder of the Portland group Open Schools USA and a concerned Newberg resident, told The Daily Wire. “The town of Newberg does not know how this happened. It was just this infiltration of sorts. The administration is standing against their own policy.”

Lawsuits

The board members who sought neutrality in schools were also pursued in court, where they are facing three lawsuits.

The teachers union, Newberg Education Association, sued the board in November 2021. The union argues in an 18-page complaint that the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and also the Oregon Constitution, which protects “against vague laws that confer unbridled discretion, because such discretion creates the potential for unequal application of the law.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon filed suit in December 2021 against the district and the four board members on behalf of a teacher who wishes to display a progressive flag in her classroom. She is claiming the ban policy violates her right to “free expression,” as outlined in the state constitution. 

The third lawsuit came from private citizens of Newberg. Seven plaintiffs allege the four board members violated public meeting laws in deciding to retain attorney Tyler Smith in private as legal counsel.

Smith told The Daily Wire that he was hired to give independent legal advice to the board, which was necessary since some nominally nonpartisan groups relied on for advice by school boards, such as the school boards association, seemed to have their own agenda.  

“It’s pretty obvious to most people in Oregon that some of these organizations, particularly the school boards association, are left-wing,” Smith said. “And so many school districts had questions and doubted what these organizations and their attorneys were telling the school boards.”

911 Calls

School board members have gone to the authorities due to shady events. Three police reports were obtained by The Daily Wire. 

For example, Shannon said that after the ban passed, someone broke his gate. A police report lists the offense as criminal mischief, third-degree vandalism. The suspect was never found.

“[Shannon] suspects it may be related to some of the political issues surrounding the school board,” the officer wrote in the report.

Powell and her husband Matt have filed two reports, one of which states she “has been receiving calls and text messages that are harassing in nature.  . . from all over the United States.” 

While Brown has not filed a police report, he said he received a phone call from the FBI in December about wealthy Democratic activist Kristen Stoller after she said on a Democratic Party Zoom call that progressives seek to “completely destroy Dave Brown.” 

The agent asked Brown if he felt threatened. He said he did. The FBI allegedly told him it would keep looking into the situation. In a statement to The Daily Wire, an FBI spokesperson said, “Our practice is not to substantiate or deny the existence of an FBI investigation.”

Recall

In September 2021, Stoller unveiled a political action committee (PAC) to recall Shannon. She raised money for the PAC by sponsoring a student drag queen show in November. A student danced in lingerie and adults threw dollar bills – catcalling and whistling – according to a video reviewed by The Daily Wire and parents familiar with the situation. Stoller could not be reached for comment.

There was also a recall PAC for Dave Brown. Yamhill County Democrats, Progressive Yamhill, and NEEd helped collect signatures to get the school board recalls on the ballot.

A major supporter of the recalls has been the Oregon Education Association, donating more than $6,600. On January 5, it mailed this flyer to Newberg residents: 

Close to $70,000 has been dumped into the two recall PACs. Large donations have come from celebrities with little connection to the town, a Daily Wire review of financial records shows. The PACs have rolled out the red carpet for the recall, with thousands of dollars going toward TV ad buys. 

The communications director and senior strategist for both groups is Matthew Moriarty, a cinematographer known for Spider Man, 500 Days of Summer, and Lethal Weapon 4. Moriarty has a home in nearby Dundee, Oregon. Moriarty and his Camden Picture Company, a corporation registered in Dundee, have put at least $2,700 toward the recall. 

This includes contributions to Voices of Newberg, another PAC funneling money to the two recall PACs that lists a director named Sean Devine – a filmmaker who is friends with Moriarty. All three PACs also list Jef A. Green, a Portland-based progressive political finance operative, as an officer. 

In early January, Moriarty admitted he lured others out of state to donate to the recall effort, as first reported by local journalist Carey Martell. “When I tell my work colleagues about the recalls I’m involved in back home – where a bunch of good people get together to remove two highly destructive figures from local government – they send money,” Moriarty wrote.

Actress Rosario Dawson, famous for her roles in He Got Game and Josie and the Pussycats, and the former girlfriend of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has donated at least $2,750 to the Recall Brian Shannon PAC. Justin Simien, a filmmaker who created the TV series Dear White People, has donated at least $1,000. 

Moriarty, Dawson, and Simien could not be reached for comment. The top three donors to the recall are the state teachers union, Moriarty’s company, and Dawson.  

Hollywood is not the only powerful force that flocked to Newberg. On August 19, 2021, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) visited Stoller and other activists in Newberg. A press release claims Ocasio-Cortez “came through Newberg on vacation and Stoller. . . seized the opportunity to meet and take photos with her.” 

On Instagram, Stoller asked AOC to “help however you can.” The congresswoman’s office did not respond to a Daily Wire request for comment. 

Cancel Culture

Brown and his wife Judy, a physical education teacher in the district, fear for their jobs. They are harassed daily. Judy walks on eggshells at work, where she has been given the silent treatment as progressives seek to recall her husband. 

“I was the activities director and went to every dance,” Judy said in a phone interview. “I would go to teachers’ rooms and they would come to me. Now, every day I go to work I don’t know what kind of battle I’ll have to deal with. Every classroom has a poster with a brown fist with a big rainbow.” 

Communications in a private Facebook page called Equity For Newberg, obtained by The Daily Wire, reveal just how far activists have been willing to go to try to cancel the board members and their families.

“Please contact the Potter’s Vineyard and the Allison Inn,” wrote the page, which does not reveal who is behind the post. “Renee Powell brags on her website that her art is on display at both of these locations. I doubt the art and wine community support her anti-equity policies and would not want to be patrons at an establishment that does.”

Powell had her paintings removed from both Potter’s and Allison Inn – where she noted the work was on display for three years. The activists went to the winery and asserted she was a “white supremacist” and “racist,” and Powell told the owners it was not true. It was no use. 

“I was hurt that people would think of me like that. It just really hurt. As a business, I hoped they would stand up for me,” Powell said, describing how she thinks it’s a contradiction progressives objected to the flag ban but were content to get her artwork removed. 

Bill Sanchez, co-owner of the vineyard, told The Daily Wire in an interview, “we rotate artists all the time,” when asked if Potter’s would have removed Powell’s art if progressives had not complained. 

Shortly after the ban vote, Shannon was called in by his employer, Selectron Technologies. “They basically said people had started calling the customer service line to advocate for getting me fired. About three weeks after that, they called to let me know they were terminating me,” he said.

Shannon added that “like any working stiff, I went on the job hunt and found another job.” He now “lives in fear” that the mob will figure out his current job, which he declined to disclose. He doesn’t even tell his parents where he works. 

“Please contact the Canby School District,” Equity For Newberg also wrote. “Dave Brown is the Girls Tennis Coach for Canby High School. Canby School District has strong pro-equity policies that Dave Brown is undermining in the Newberg School District.”

“Is Lam Research aware that one of your employees, Trevor DeHart, is a board member who led this anti-equity ban on LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter displays in school? Doesn’t seem to match your companies claimed values,” the page wrote.

‘You’ve Got To Stand Up and Fight’

Three PACs helping the board members fight the recall effort have taken in around $7,300, a tiny fraction of the haul of those seeking to oust them. “It is so aggressive what they are trying to do to two men,” said Rose Etherington, who co-founded one of the anti-recall groups and is also education integrity chair for the Yamhill County Republican Party. “It’s astounding.” 

Brian Shannon said: “They have harassed my family. They’ve done things that are just simply beyond the pale of what should be done in political discourse. They literally tried to break up my marriage. If you’re willing to target a person’s livelihood and try to deprive their children of food and shelter, there’s not a whole lot you’re willing not to do in service of your ideology.”

But school board members intend to fight back. They think they stand a good chance in the recall. 

“You can’t hide from what’s going on,” DeHart said. “You’ve got to stand up and fight. And that’s what we’re doing.” 

Send story tips to Gabe Kaminsky at gekaminsky@protonmail.com. Follow him on Twitter. 

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