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Temecula school district board and community is in turmoil; Governor Newsom steps in the action

The question of 'moral justice' of historical figures in textbooks is an easy scapegoat but not realistic

SACRAMENTO – This week, the Temecula Valley Unified School District board of trustees voted down the use of the Social Studies Alive!” textbooks again in a 3-2 vote. Their social studies curriculum has not been updated since 2006.

The Temecula Valley Unified School District, which serves roughly 28,468 students and has about 2,600 employees, is located in Riverside County and is over 148 square miles from the San Diego County line.

So what is the push back from some parents and board of trustees?

In May, the school board initially voted 3-2 not to use the textbooks, published by Teachers Curriculum Institute, in grades one to five, according to EdSource. Some board members objected to supplemental material to the textbook that included gay rights activist, Harvey Milk.

The decision to reject the textbooks is one of several recent controversial moves made by the board since the election of a conservative majority, which banned teaching critical race theory in the district last December and fired Superintendent Jody McClay without cause in June, according to EdSource. McClay was paid a total of $362,000 — a year’s salary plus a vacation payout — when she left.

Critical race theory is a college-level theory that is not taught in Temecula Valley Unified and is seldom taught in K-12 education. It examines how laws, regulations and government practices have perpetuated racial injustice.

TVUSD Board of Trustees President Joseph Komrosky, Danny Gonzalez and Jennifer Wiersma, voted against adoption of a state recommended ― not mandated ― K-5 social studies book, “Social Studies Alive,” according to Desert Sun news. The K-5 curriculum based in part on its celebration of gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, whom Komrosky referred to as a “pedophile” for his documented interactions with a teenage boy from another state when Milk was in his 30s, the news article continued.

However, what should also be noted is that over 98 percent of the parents, two board of trustees, and a number of teachers "do" approve use of the textbook for the K-5 curriculum. In an educational review committee, 47 district teachers from 18 middle schools piloted and used the textbooks in their classrooms for nine weeks. Parents were allowed to review the materials in March and April; nearly all of those who did were either supportive or neutral about it, according to the teachers' review committee who reported back.

Also, the 2006 outdated textbooks do not meet the current California History-Social Studies Framework or incorporate the 2012 California FAIR Education Act, which requires that social studies curricula acknowledge the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, along with individuals with disabilities and other ethnic and racial groups, according to EdSource. Although, there is still an unknown number of districts who are also using outdated textbooks or early literacy curricula with dis-proven reading techniques.

Milk is celebrated as the first openly gay person to be voted into public office in California, later assassinated in 1978--the social studies material does not discuss his sexual relationships.

Such an instance is equivalent to studying President Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States who is also credited for drafting the Declaration of Independence, but yet he owned 267 slaves and had sexual relations with his daughter Polly's 14-year-old enslaved chambermaid seamstress, Sarah “Sally” Hemings, according to The Philadelphia Tribune. The historical reference of President Jefferson as the forefather of the Declaration of Independence is deemed important in many school curricula today without elaborating on the details of the "moral injustices" of President Jefferson's personal decisions and livelihood. In fact many forefathers and historical figures would have to be deleted from textbooks if one were to look at "moral justifications" versus the historical facts and references of the time period--then "all" historical material in textbooks would be considered questionable.

The Governor steps in

California provides instruction and support services to roughly 5.9 million students in grades transitional kindergarten through twelve in more than 1,000 districts and over 10,000 schools throughout the state. Under Governor Gavin Newsom’s leadership, education funding is at a record high in California, totaling $129.2 billion in the 2023-24 budget.

In a press release this week, Governor Newsom announced that the state is entering into a contract to secure the K-5 textbook Social Studies Alive! to ensure students in the Temecula Valley Unified School District begin the school year with access to up-to-date books and materials that comply with state law. He will then bill the district $1.6 million for the cost. He also added a $1.5 million fine that, at least for the moment, he lacks the authority to impose, according to EdSource. The authority to levy a penalty will depend on the passage of Assembly Bill 1078, authored by Assemblyman Corey Jackson, D-Perris. It would reaffirm “the power to ensure that local educational agencies comply with laws supporting pupils’ right to receive accurate and inclusive education in California’s schools.”

“The three political activists on the school board have yet again proven they are more interested in breaking the law than doing their jobs of educating students — so the state will do their job for them,” said Governor Newsom. “California will ensure students in Temecula begin the school year with access to materials reviewed by parents and recommended by teachers across the district. 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.”

Last week, the Governor and state leaders demanded the school district follow the law and adopt an updated curriculum. The Temecula Valley Unified School District can be at risk of losing state funding for not following state law. Recently, the opposed board of trustees suggested they may agree to adopting the Social Studies Alive! textbook on their own timetable--not the governor's timeline--after talking with more parents. Board member, Danny Gonzalez also wanted there to be a law prohibiting the discussion of sexual relations in the classroom through fourth grade, according to EdSource.

The other issue remains for the teachers who explained at the July 18 board meeting that they would not be able to prepare a curriculum for the fall based on the new textbooks due to the late delivery--school starts August.

The dissension between the three opposed, new, conservative board members (Board President Komrosky, Gonzalez, and Wiersma) and the governor have been consistent; it was this year that Governor Newsom, a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights, proclaimed May 22 as Harvey Milk Day to honor the activist and politician. The three, new, Southern California school board members were backed by a far-right pastor, narrowly winning the election last fall in campaigns fueled by pandemic rage, according to Politico. After just six months in office, those officials face a recall effort on top of a civil rights investigation launched by the state’s Democratic-led education department. Students have held protests, and irate parents and teachers are swarming the board’s meetings, feeling that their town has become consumed by partisan warfare, the article continued.

Meanwhile, EdSource reported that the board’s May decision to reject the books has sparked two state investigations, prompted the introduction of multiple pieces of legislation, resulted in a new California Department of Education task force on inclusive education, and deeply divided the community of Temecula. The Governor is working with the Legislature and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to enact legislation to impose fines on any school district that fails to provide adequate instructional materials.

As currently drafted, AB 1078 would build on an existing process for the public to file a complaint against a school district for insufficient textbooks. If found in violation, the county would order up-to-date curriculum materials and bill the district. If a board continually fails to remedy the problem, the state could impose a fine equal to the funding a district receives from the state for instructional materials. For good measure, the district would be required to post public notices listing the names of negligent board members.

Dean Broyles, an attorney who focuses on constitutional issues involving religious freedom and founded the nonprofit National Center for Law and Policy in Escondido, said AB 1078 would significantly erode the power of districts, under local control, to decide what it must teach and at what grade.

“Under the FAIR Act, school boards could decide when it is age-appropriate to introduce LGBTQ issues,” he said. “The majority of the Temecula Valley board is saying, ‘We don’t want to use this book for kindergartners through fifth graders.’ They’re not saying we’re not going to comply with the FAIR Act.”

“What AB 1078 does,” Broyles said, “is give the California Department of Education and county offices of education the authority to monitor school districts and enforce compliance with the law based on viewpoints on LGBTQ issues that many Californians disagree with.”


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