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Gov. Newsom fines Temecula Valley school board $1.5 for rejecting new curriculum

Gov. Newsom fines Temecula Valley school district $1.5 million for rejecting curriculum
Gov. Newsom fines Temecula Valley school district $1.5 million for rejecting curriculum 02:58

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced that the state would be fining the Temecula Valley Unified School District in an ongoing battle over a social studies curriculum that involves gay rights activist Harvey Milk. 

On Tuesday, the TVUSD board voted against the new curriculum, which has been endorsed by the state, adding to what has been a tumultuous span of weeks in which the governor and district have been trading jabs

A 3-2 vote saw the board again reject the material solely based on the mention of Milk, a gay rights figure who paved the way for LGBTQ+ members today, becoming the first openly gay man elected into office in California. Board members and a group of parents are upset over allegations that Milk was a pedophile and had a relationship with a teenager while he was in his 30s. 

As a result, Gov. Newsom imposed a $1.5 million fine for the district, in what he calls a "willful violation of the law." He also plans on providing the new textbooks to TVUSD students prior to the start of the new school year, which begins on Aug. 14, along with the estimated $1.6 million price tag to acquire the textbooks. 

"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," Newsom said in a statement. "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."

Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

The repeated decisions by board members have drawn the ire of many Temecula parents, who have taken to city streets to protest the decision. They're upset by the board's conscious disregard of public opinion in which 98.8% of TVUSD parents voted to support the adoption of the new curriculum, according to data from the Governor's office. 

"They embrace the fact that Governor Newsom is getting involved because it's almost like that's their goal," said Aaron Cook, a TVUSD parent. "Rather than doing what's best for the students."

On top of that, their current textbooks are dated and don't contain an accurate representation of the state's history, preventing children from receiving a thorough education.

"This is not a religious school district," said another TVUSD student. "It's a public school district that has to abide by California Public Education Code."

Related: Temecula Valley Unified School District fires superintendent

In what was yet another emotionally charged meeting on Tuesday, a video shows one woman being escorted out of the room after confronting board members. 

"Once again, it is clear that you are a homophobe," the woman said while speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

Other members voiced their full support for the efforts of the board members. 

"I can tell you know that you have more support than you'll ever know," said one man, whose comment was met by cheers from others in the crowd. 

Upon request for comment, TVUSD issued a statement on behalf of Board President Komrosky, which said:

"I speak personally here and not on behalf of the entire TVUSD Board when I say, the Temecula Valley Unified School District is not done with its work on curriculum for the 2023-2024 school year.  We continue to engage our parents and work diligently towards finding the right solution for our community, and every day we make progress towards that goal.  We still have the time to continue this critical process and meet all state and federal mandates before the next school year begins.  Throughout this process, we have put a high value on Board priorities such as curriculum & instruction as well as family & community.  One such policy priority of the Board is that "Our families and community members will feel connected, informed, and welcome to participate as true partners in the education of our students." We take that policy seriously and intend for those words to have actual meaning.  Additionally, parental feedback is critical in collaborating with our educators, and executive staff to find agreement on what standards will best achieve educational excellence.

A critical component of that exercise is to determine the subject matter's age appropriateness for any curriculum and the specific grade level at hand. While engaged in this process, I am confident that while reviewing any curriculum for use in this District, TVUSD will select the best material that emphasizes our mission of, "High-Quality Teaching and Learning for All", but that also avoids any teacher-to-student conversations related to sex and sexual activity at the elementary school level.  These conversations are better left to the parents and their children.

Despite our continuing work and commitment to core values, Governor Newsom has taken unilateral action to intervene in the middle of our work without even contacting the school district first to understand what the school district may be further doing to meet all of the curriculum needs of our students.  What he calls inaction we see as responsible considerations for all of our community's viewpoints as we come to a final decision and with time left to do so.  To that end, I will be calling a Special Meeting of the Board for July 21, 2023, to consider a culmination of our work on this issue and the potential adoption of curriculum that meets all state and federal mandates.  We do not appreciate Governor Newsom's effort to usurp local control and all that will apparently result from these tactics is a waste of the taxpayers' money.  We sincerely hope he has a 14-day return policy with the publisher of the books he just purchased."

The debacle began back in June when board members first voted 3-2 in favor of rejecting the new social studies book. Prior to the vote, TVUSD Board President Dr. Joseph Komrosky, commented on the allegations against Milk. 

"My question is, why even mention a pedophile?" he said at the highly contentious meeting. 

In the time since, Newsom has directed public comments towards the school board, referring to Komrosky as "an ignorant person."

Komrosky responded to the governor, in a rhetorically-charged statement of his own. 

"I assure you that I am anything but ignorant regarding what you said. Governor, you said it right when you said this isn't Texas or Florida as we could be so much better than these states if we had better leadership than the top levels of government...," Komrosky said. 

This is the latest instance of the California governor's attempts at preventing book banning, both in the Golden State and nationally, after interjecting himself into ongoing debates in Republican-controlled states like Texas and Florida. 

The mention of LGBTQ+ material has been highly-divisive in school districts across the United States, with several notable instances taking place in Southern California in recent months. 

In Glendale, activists and protestors clashed at a school board meeting, with several fights breaking out between both sides as board members discussed Pride month.

Similarly in North Hollywood, protestors scuffled with activists at Saticoy Elementary School where a scheduled Pride assembly was met with outrage from some parents. Weeks earlier, a burnt Pride flag was found on campus outside of a classroom where it was being displayed. 

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