The Temecula Valley Unified School District voted unanimously to adopt California’s new social studies book and curriculum during a Friday meeting after previously rejecting it twice.
The board had objected to the book’s coverage of LGBTQ+ figures in history. Despite agreeing to adopt the curriculum, the board says it will pull any material referencing gay rights activist Harvey Milk, which was one of the main points of contention.
After reviewing options, the board said it may consider replacing the text referencing Milk with the biography of another gay rights leader instead.
Emotions were high during the hours-long Friday meeting as both sides presented arguments in favor of the curriculum or against it. The policy’s adoption will likely avoid a $1.5 million fine from the state for compliance violations.
This follows a previous five-hour Tuesday hearing that saw parents, teachers, and community members debating over the curriculum for elementary school kids. The board later voted 3-2 to reject the curriculum as tensions continued flaring.
The new social studies book in question is called, “Social Studies Alive!” and complies with 2011 state laws requiring that students get instruction about “the role and contributions of people with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans; and other ethnic and cultural groups.”
Conservative members of the school board have complained that supplemental material for the curriculum contains a three-paragraph mention of gay rights leader Harvey Milk. Milk was also the first openly gay politician to be elected to office in California.
Two of those members, Joseph Komrosky and Danny Gonzalez, called Milk a “pedophile” in a May 16 board meeting and did not want the curriculum used in Temecula schools.
The comment drew criticism from California Governor Gavin Newsom.
In a June 3 Tweet, the governor responded to Dr. Joseph Komrosky’s comment, calling the statement “offensive” and that it comes “from an ignorant person.”
In a July 13 video posted on social media, Newsom said the state would be stepping in if the school board refused to purchase the approved social studies textbooks.
“A school board in Temecula decided to reject a textbook because it mentioned Harvey Milk,” Newsom said in a Tweet. “CA is stepping in. We’re going to purchase the book for these students—the same one that hundreds of thousands of kids are already using. If these extremist school board members won’t do their job, we will — and fine them for their incompetence.”
At the time, Newsom said the state would be sending the books to the school district before the new school year begins on Aug. 14. Newsom said the failure to adopt the curriculum is a violation of state law.
The textbook is already in use across hundreds of school districts in California.
“During the last academic year, the curriculum was piloted by nearly 1,300 families in Temecula classrooms and was recommended by teachers representing every elementary school in the district and overwhelmingly supported by parents and community members,” Newsom said. “According to the school district, during the community feedback period, 98.8% of parents, educators, and community members expressed being supportive or impartial to the adoption.”
Komrosky, however, maintains that he’s ready for the challenge from Newsom and will reject any attempts to implement the new books. He also believes Newsom is overstepping his authority by forcing the school district to use the books.
“I’ve already instructed the superintendent, if books come from shipping and receiving, to say ‘No,’ and we’ll ship them right back,” said Komrosky, the board president.
The current social studies books used by students in the district were published in 2006. Newsom said he won’t stand for the district using outdated materials and said by refusing to adopt the new curriculum, “the district is out of compliance with at least three separate state laws and frameworks with its current curriculum.”
“After we deliver the textbooks into the hands of students and their parents, the state will deliver the bill — along with a $1.5 million fine — to the school board for its decision to willfully violate the law, subvert the will of parents, and force children to use an out-of-print textbook from 17 years ago,” Newsom said. “Your kids have the freedom to learn and you have the freedom to access those books, the same books that hundreds of thousands of kids across the state are accessing.”
After the policy passed during Friday night’s board meeting, Newsom released a statement saying:
“Fortunately, now students will receive the basic materials needed to learn. But this vote lays bare the true motives of those who opposed this curriculum. This has never been about parents’ rights. It’s not even about Harvey Milk – who appears nowhere in the textbook students receive. This is about extremists’ desire to control information and censor the materials used to teach our children.
Demagogues who whitewash history, censor books, and perpetuate prejudice never succeed. Hate doesn’t belong in our classrooms and because of the board majority’s antics, Temecula has a civil rights investigation to answer for.”
The full board meeting session can be viewed here.
The board’s actions are still being investigated by the California Department of Education including an inquiry into the district by the California Department of Justice related to civil rights violations.