Newly elected school board members on the Temecula Valley Unified School District felt the wrath of Governor Gavin Newsom and other Sacramento politicians when they used their legal authority to initially reject state recommended LGBTQ friendly social studies curriculum for their elementary school students. The board eventually approved the controversial curriculum last week, with some modifications, after the governor threatened to buy and distribute the books to the Temecula schools himself as well as fine them over $1.5 million.
The conflict with the governor started earlier this year, when the Temecula Valley Unified School District selected textbooks for use in its schools. The board decided against using an elementary school-level social studies textbook that included references to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected in the United States, who was known to have sexual relationship with a teenager.
Temecula School Trustee Jen Wiersma explained the board’s position in an op-ed. “Our primary focus was to seek a robust, collaboratively chosen history curriculum, rich in civics and geography. During this process we were given cause for concern upon discovery of Harvey Milk’s biography in the proposed supplemental material for 4th grade. We learned this controversial historical figure was an adult who engaged in an intimate, long-term sexual relationship with a minor,” she wrote.
Comments from Wiersma and TVUSD School Board President Dr. Joseph Komrosky against Milk, an LGBTQ icon the state legislature honors annually, caused a fire storm of controversy and spurred Governor Newsom to publicly condemn the school board. “An offensive statement from an ignorant person,” Newsom tweeted. “This isn’t Texas or Florida. In the Golden State, our kids have the freedom to learn. Congrats Mr. Komrosky you have our attention. Stay tuned.”
Then Governor Gavin Newsom announced he was purchasing and sending the rejected textbooks to students, “to ensure students in the district begin the school year with access to up-to-date books and materials that comply with state law.”
“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,” threatened Newsom.
In addition, legislation was introduced by Assembly Member Jackson (AB 1078) in coordination with the governor’s office that would severely limit the decision making power of local school over their curriculum they pick for their students.
The new legislation, that has already passed the Senate Education Committee, would among other things require a two-thirds vote of a school board to remove a textbook and other instructional materials, outside an LEA the regularly adoption schedule. The bill also empowers the Superintendent of Public Instruction to fine school boards if he or she determines that the school district hasn’t “provided sufficient textbooks or instructional materials” on a variety of topics including the role and contributions of “LGBTQ+ Americans.”
Constitutional Attorney Dean Broyles with the National Center for Law and Policy see this bill and the governor’s behavior as very concerning. “From a constitutional perspective, Governor Newsom and Attorney General Bonta’s recent threats and the clearly coordinated legislation of Assembly Member Jackson (AB 1078) targeting TVUSD are very problematic,” said Broyles.
“Any analysis of public education must begin with the bedrock principle that parents have the primary right and duty to direct the care, upbringing and education of their children. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this fundamental 14th Amendment right over and over again.”
“The state has a legitimate role in education, but it is constitutionally forbidden by the First Amendment (freedom of speech/free exercise of religion) from deciding what is orthodox in politics, religion and human sexuality and from coercively imposing its statist viewpoints on everyone else. In other words, the state can educate our children, but it must never indoctrinate them.”
Broyles concludes that Governor Newsom and California legislators are overstepping their boundaries and transgressing “the legitimate role of parents and their duly elected school board members.”
The Temecula school board did approve their the Elementary School social studies curriculum they initially rejected last Friday, not because of the threat from Newsom, but because of concerns about a potential lawsuit. While approving the curriculum, the school board asked their interim superintendent to review the 4th grade portions of the curriculum that included a discussion of gay rights, same-sex marriage and substituting it with “age-appropriate curriculum,” that excludes “sexualized topics” from lower grades.
“We are not banning content as some people would like to characterize our work,” Komrosky said in a statement after Friday’s vote. “We are working to make sure that the content delivered to our students is appropriate for our students at the age and grad-level presented. We also believe that some topics are best left of parents to first introduce to their elementary school age children rather than being discussed by a teacher in the classroom.”