OSEA Board Member, ACLU Win Victory for Free Speech in Newberg

OSEA Zone I Director Chelsea Shotts, a former employee of Newberg School District.

A Newberg School District policy banning employees from displaying signs including pride and Black Lives Matter flags violates the Oregon constitution, a judge ruled in September in a lawsuit brought by OSEA Zone I Director Chelsea Shotts.

Shotts, a former classified employee in Newberg who currently works in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, sued the district over the policy after a community member reported her for hanging a sign in her classroom featuring a rainbow and the words “Be Known.”

Shotts said she pursued the lawsuit because, “as a queer educator, I have firsthand experience in how harmful it is to be forced into the shadows. It often leads to instilling a sense of shame and fear surrounding one’s identity, which leads to negative mental and physical health outcomes.”

“School leaders should be focused on meeting students’ needs and resourcing our schools, not playing politics with people’s lives. My identity and the identities of my students are not political,” Shotts said.

Shotts was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the suit, which asked the court to declare that her sign was protected by the Oregon constitution’s provisions for free expression, which are stronger than those in the U.S. Constitution.

The sign Shotts posted in her classroom, which reads ‘Be known.’

On Sept. 29, 2022, Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Easterday ruled in Shotts’ favor finding that the district violated her rights to free speech enshrined in the Oregon constitution. The lawsuit sought only declaratory and injunction relief, which prohibit the district from enforcing its policy. Shotts did not seek financial compensation.

“This is a great ruling that affirms our right to freedom of expression,” said OSEA President Sarah Wofford. “In an earnest effort to create a welcoming environment, OSEA member and Zone I Director Chelsea Shotts proudly stood up for her students, community and coworkers in Newberg.”