A group of local school district superintendents is speaking up for Joe Morelock, the recently fired superintendent of Newberg Public Schools.
The Newberg School Board has gained attention in recent weeks for trying to ban teachers from displaying gay pride and Black Lives Matter symbols, as reported by the Associated Press. It then fired Morelock during a Zoom meeting Nov. 9.
The escalating disputes in Newberg come as schools nationwide have become battlegrounds for arguments over vaccine and mask mandates, how racism is addressed in teaching, and topics related to sexuality and gender.
The school board dismissed Morelock during an end-of-meeting vote — four in favor, three opposed — despite strong objections from board and community members.
After Morelock was fired, board member Rebecca Piros — one of three who opposed his firing — told him she was sorry, the AP reported.
"Just remember that from the darkest dark comes the brightest light, so everything will work out eventually," Morelock replied.
The four board members in favor of his dismissal offered no explanation as they summarily fired Morelock, giving him 10 days left on the job.
Local district administrators voiced their support for Morelock in a statement released Monday.
Among the 10 signees were Brad Capener of Jefferson School District, Scott Drue of Silver Falls, Juan Larios of Woodburn, Ginger Redlinger of North Marion and Craig Hawkins with the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools Superintendent Christy Perry was not named as a signee.
The letter starts by explaining the challenges educators locally and nationally are facing, many of which surfaced during the pandemic — such as high rates of loss and death of loved ones — whereas others, like staff shortages and student behavioral problems, have increased in recent months.
"In the face of fear and division, we need calm, steady leadership," they wrote in the letter. "Superintendents represent an important part of the equation, but ... school boards share a collective responsibility to focus on what matters most: supporting our students, our teachers, and yes, our superintendents."
The signees described Morelock as a respected colleague, admired leader and trusted administrator in the region.
"By terminating Dr. Morelock, members of the Newberg School Board have attempted to silence him, his cabinet, and the community about very real issues that all of our districts must face," they wrote.
The superintendents who added their names to the statement said they support him because they know and work with him directly.
They recommended Morelock's position as superintendent be reinstated "in order to preserve and continue his good work in the district and to send a strong message that future leaders will be able to work through issues that arise."
"Decisions around district leadership are windows into how a school board's decision making is happening, their attention to the legal rights of employees, and their ability to ensure financial stability in the district," they wrote. "Even when there are concerns, we must still try, again and again, to work together and rebuild collegiality and trust to ensure our students can reach their full potential."
Signees also invited parents, students, teachers and others to speak out in favor of fair and just professional practices when it comes to the hiring and retention of school administrators.
"We invite those who hold decision-making power in our school districts to remain committed to hearing the many perspectives throughout their district," they wrote. "We hope everyone in our school communities will join us in remaining open to working through difficulties with the intentional dialog and transparency that our local communities deserve."
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This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Willamette Valley administrators speak up for fired Newberg superintendent