A staff member at an Oregon elementary school showed up to work in blackface on Friday, pretending to be Rosa Parks and somehow rationalizing her behavior as protesting the school district’s vaccine mandate.

Lauren Pefferle, a special education assistant at Mabel Rush Elementary in Newberg, Oregon, darkened her face with iodine, according to The Newberg Graphic. A fellow school staff member told the news outlet, which first reported the story, that the woman who came to work in blackface was Pefferle.

The unnamed staff member reportedly said Pefferle’s reasoning was that she was trying to look like Rosa Parks, the Black woman who helped launch the civil rights movement when she protested racial segregation in the public transit system in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Pefferle reportedly wanted her racist attempt at imitating Parks to serve as a protest of the Newberg School District’s vaccine mandate, according to the Graphic.

The vaccine mandate applies to all school district staff, including Pefferle’s position. Staff can seek exemptions, however, they are approved only in rare circumstances, such as for religious or medical reasons. 

Pefferle ― whom the district itself did not name ― was removed from the school grounds and placed on administrative leave. Her name does not appear on Mabel Rush’s staff directory.

“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,” the district said in a statement.

“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,” the statement continued. “Blackface has no place in our schools, and we are committed to the work of created spaces where every student belongs as we move forward together in our mission of educating students.”

The blackface incident is just the latest in a string of controversies at the school district. Earlier this month, a Newberg High School student allegedly participated in a racist Snapchat group called “Slave Trade,” where teens around the country reportedly have used homophobic and racist slurs while pretending to auction off Black classmates.

Insider reported at the time that it reviewed photos of the group chat that were posted on Instagram, which identified the Newberg student who allegedly participated. The photos reportedly showed that he sent a screenshot showing two of his Black classmates to the chat group and captioned it “100$ each.” He acknowledged his participation in the chat via a comment on the post and wrote that it took place two years ago, according to the Insider news site.

The news of the student led to a visiting girls soccer team’s protest in solidarity with Newberg’s Black students. Newberg High School’s principal wrote about the racist group chat in a letter to parents, saying the school was investigating the incident and that officials condemned actions that “represent the antithesis of what we believe and where we stand as a Newberg National family.”

At the same time, Oregon state representatives were condemning the school district for simultaneously pushing a ban on Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride flags, clothing and signs from its schools. The ban passed last month by the Newberg School Board applies to anything political, despite board members struggling to define the term, but it is currently on hold pending a legal review ordered by Superintendent Joe Morelock.

“What happened in Newberg is vile! For an educator within our district to show up to school in Blackface, shows how little Black lives and Black people matter to some in our community,” Tai Harden-Moore, a Black woman and former school board candidate, told HuffPost in an email on Monday in response to the blackface incident. 

“However, what’s more upsetting is the harkening back to the Jim Crow era as if that was a good time in American history. Is that what Newberg wants, a return to Jim Crow?” she said, adding that the recent events in the district send a “strong and direct message” that it is not a “safe and welcoming place for Black students, or any student of color or marginalized student, and that is not only problematic, it is scary.”

Harden-Moore’s son was called a racial slur by a white classmate in seventh grade. Though her daughter remains in the school system, the former candidate’s son transferred after she said school officials failed to respond appropriately to the racist incident.

“As a parent, I am afraid of sending my child to school every day because I don’t know what they will have to endure. Will they face racism today? Discrimination? Hatred? What is happening in Newberg is a reflection of what is happening across America ― divisiveness, racism and hate have taken over, and it is up to us to stop, hold each other accountable and do better.

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