NEWBERG, Ore. — Hours before the Newberg school board is set to discuss a controversial ban on the display of "controversial political symbols" in schools, parents at Newberg High School found out some of their kids were either participating in -- or targeted by -- a social media group chat called "Slave Trade," which joked about how much participants would pay for their Black classmates in a slave auction.
In an email to KGW News, the principal of Newberg High School, Tami Erion, said that Newberg High students took part in a Snapchat group chat, and used photos of students, along with racist and homophobic slurs. She said the chat originated in Michigan in late 2020, but the school's administration learned about it on Friday. She sent a letter to the school community about it on Tuesday.
"My heart is so broken for these kids who have gotten the message that they are not even seen as human by some of their fellow students," said Heidi Pender, the mother of a Black student at the school. "To imagine your own child being talked about as if they were subhuman slaves to be sold by other students, it made me feel like I was going to throw up."
Screenshots obtained by KGW News show pictures of the students, followed by a discussion around their price, and private details of their lives. Participants also commented, "All Blacks should die" and "Let's have another Holocaust."
"As a community, we continue to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging," wrote Erion, the school's principal. "Newberg High School is committed to ensuring that ALL students are afforded a safe learning environment by prohibiting harassment based upon gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or disability."
But parents say their students don't feel safe at Newberg High, especially after the school board voted to ban Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride symbols. In past public comments over the ban, parents of Black students say having Black Lives Matter displays in the school show their students who they can turn to when they're experiencing racism.
"For my daughter who is Black, it's confusing for her, why people would be against saying her life matters," said Pender. "Those words just mean what they say: Black lives matter. For her to have adults who are in charge of her school district say teachers are not allowed to tell you that your life matters is very confusing and a very hurtful message for her."
The school board is taking public comment on the ban at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.