Following an uproar from parents and students who called it an “Archie Bunker-type letter” that was “overtly racist” and “unacceptable,” the school district now says it is rethinking its decision.
“We regret the way this was communicated,” district spokeswoman Courtney Westling told The Washington Post in a statement. “Our intent was to limit student exposure to religious teachings, profanity and violent lyrics. The transportation department will be revising its guidance to bus drivers shortly to be more inclusive of different genres of music.”
Colleen Ryan-Onken, a parent who starting circulating the memorandum on social media earlier this week, told the Oregonian it “leaves out two of our major communities in our music choices.”
“When you outlaw a kind of music that is very indicative of the modern culture of one group of people you’re basically saying that they’re not welcome,” she said. “Those of us in the district, living in diverse communities in Portland, understand the racial equity stuff going on is entirely for the cameras. There is no real meat behind it.”
Ryan-Onken told the newspaper that, to her, rap music is no more offensive than the other types of music that the school district still allows.
“Country music is offensive. It’s about date rape, liquor and drugs — all kinds of things!” she said. “It’s just as offensive as rap music can be.”
Portland Public Schools has more than 49,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade — more than 55 percent of them are white, 16 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are African American, according to 2015-2016 enrollment figures.
“With highly trained teachers and staff; an engaged parent community; strong partnerships, and a focus on closing the racial educational achievement gap, PPS is at its highest graduation rate in at least 15 years and is enjoying its seventh straight year of enrollment growth,” according to the Portland Public Schools’ website.
A commenter on the district’s Facebook page, said with such diversity among the student body, “shouldn’t the district expose students to those different cultures?”
Another Portland parent, Kim Sordyl, who has a background in employment law, said that when she saw the letter, she reached out to the school board for help.
She said Portland Public Schools has spent millions on equity training for students and staff members to ensure the schools are inclusive and nondiscriminatory, and that sending such a memo shows that it has been a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“This is a racist memo; it clearly wasn’t thought out,” Sordyl told The Post, adding, “It targets one type of music and calls it offensive.”
Sordyl said the order prohibiting rap music — which is more popular among African American and other minority groups — but allowing country music shows the blatant racism.
“For me, the Christian music thing isn’t a problem because there must be a separation of church and state,” she said. “It should have been policy a long time ago.”
Sordyl said she has two sons, ages 9 and 11, in the school system and that her oldest will start taking the school bus this year. She said although her boys are aware of the controversial order, they don’t yet understand it.
“They’re still at the age that they’re surprised that this happens,” she said. “They’ve never been taught that a certain type of music is bad and another type is good.”