An Oregon elementary school staff member has been suspended after showing up to work in blackface last week, officials announced Monday.
The employee was removed from campus and placed on administrative leave, according to a statement from Newberg Public Schools condemning "all expressions of racism." The district is about 20 miles southwest of Portland.
The Newberg Graphic newspaper reported that the staff member at Mabel Rush Elementary School called herself Rosa Parks and wore blackface in protest of a districtwide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.
The school district has not publicly identified the staff member.
Blackface historically "has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm," the district said in a statement. With roots in the 1830s, blackface involves non-Black people darkening their faces to be caricatures of Black people, often for performances that rely on harmful stereotypes.
"We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention," the district said, adding blackface "has no place in our schools."
In the past year, a Honolulu city council member, a California high school student, and the attorney general of Virginia all faced accusations of wearing blackface. In 2019, several Virginia officials also came under scrutiny for their use of blackface, fueling a nationwide debate over the practice that has long reared its ugly head at college campus parties, in TV sketches and in Halloween costumes.
Newberg Public Schools superintendent Joe Morelock said in a statement that he is horrified by the incident, adding that students of color deserve "so much more."
"If we had the power to entirely eliminate deep-seated racism, we would in a heartbeat," he said. "But the painful truth is that clearly, racist behavior exists in our town, in our state, and our world — not just in the major and overt ways we’ve seen recently, but in subtle ways that affect people of color every single day."
The incident comes amid mounting conversations about racism in the school district after Newberg High School students were found to be participating in a Snapchat group chat called "Slave Trade" earlier the same week. In the group chat, students would discuss how much they'd pay for Black classmates in a slave auction, KGW News reported.
"It is also important to acknowledge that references to our nation’s horrific history of the slave trade, which were made in the recent social media incident, have devastating consequences to our students whom we love and serve," Morelock said. "It, too, is beyond unacceptable."
The Newberg school board in August voted in favor a ban on political symbols, including Pride flags and Black Lives Matter signs, according to KGW News.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newberg, Oregon Public Schools staffer suspended for wearing blackface