Importance of voting in local elections highlighted by upheaval in Newberg

Akash Balakumar, Staff Writer

In the recent Newberg School Board election, only 25 percent of the registered population voted. Many citizens choose not to vote in non-presidential elections, but the result can be that a handful of votes change how our communities are governed, from city budget decisions to the rules enforced in classrooms.  

In Newberg, the four winners in the school board race were elected by slim margins. Two of those four winners, who are conservative-leaning, teamed together with two established members of the board to form a majority that has since made some controversial decisions regarding the district, including banning political flags and firing superintendent Joe Morelock for refusing to enforce the ban. Teachers and students argue the ban is unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought against the district.

A good number of community members have recently voiced concerns in support of the superintendent, saying he did much good for the district and without him there will be long-lasting effects that will set the district back many decades. Parents claim that without Morelock, their students have lost the desire to continue their education with Newberg Schools.

Oregon Representative and Chair of the Education and Labor Subcommittee Suzanne Bonamici released a statement saying, “The action of the Newberg School Board firing Superintendent Joe Morelock is wrong for students, wrong for educators, and wrong for the Newberg community… the school board is on a dangerous path.” 

Three teachers employed by the district have already filed a lawsuit against the school board.

“Banning peaceful flags and pride flags is a big difference from the Confederate flag and other flags with negative connotations,” one senior said. “It seems like an attempt to ensure that schools maintain control, similar to how schools whitewash history. If more people had voted, there would have been more board members who fit Newberg’s beliefs.”

In a poll of Tualatin seniors, many expressed their frustration with the Newberg decisions.

“The flag ban is unnecessary and non-beneficial. It bans non-political flags such as the LGBTQ+ and BLM flags,” senior Jacob Nguyen added. “It’s a violation of our First Amendment rights, which give us the right to freely speak, protest and much more.”

After hearing about the situation and the low participation in the school board election, 74 percent of Tualatin High School seniors said they would vote in local elections in the future.

One senior’s reasoning for voting was that, “Ignorance is what causes panic. Being informed and knowing what is going on in your community is very important, mostly due to the fact that it’s for the community YOU live in. The outcomes of local elections, though we don’t know it, have a significant impact on our community.”

Another senior, Simone Sienkiewicz, stated, “It’s important to participate as much as possible in things that will have a big impact on everyday life. I believe local elections fall under this category.”


Jacob Nguyen photographed by Tia Nguyen
Simone Sienkiewicz photographed by Carrie Dawson Photography at Leisure Farm