An ugly scene played out at the Temecula Valley School Board meeting as they voted 3-2 to reject an elementary school social studies book that contained information about pioneering California gay rights figure Harvey Milk. The board's president made a baseless accusation that Milk was a pedophile before voting to ban the book.
"My question is, why even mention a pedophile?" said Board President Dr. Joseph Komrosky.
KCAL News reached out to Komrosky and asked him to provide information related to his claim. However, we did not hear back as of June 1.
"An offensive statement from an ignorant person," said Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted on June 3. "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."
Temecula's emotionally charged meeting resembles many others from here in Southern California and across the country as communities demand school boards to limit discussions of race and sexual orientation.
The battle over books has been an ongoing conflict in Republican-controlled states. Newsom interjected himself into the fray last summer in a series of commercials that aired in Florida. Now, he's taking that message directly to educators in the state through a letter directed to superintendents and school administrators. The warning — which was also penned by California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Attorney General Rob Bonta — urged them to not take part in the removal of instructional materials.
"Access to books — including books that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians, and especially those that may challenge us to grapple with uncomfortable truths — is a profound freedom we all must protect and cultivate," the letter read in part.
The letter has garnered the support of some parents including Los Angeles Unified School District mom Jenna Schwartz, who helped create a group called Parents Supporting Teachers.
"I think that our governor and the AG are looking at what's happening in these red states and we can see the future," said Schwartz. "We know what happens when you dilute education for children. They become uneducated adults. We can't let that happen here."
The letter cites more than 1400 book bans across the country as one of the reasons the state issued this warning to any district contemplating limiting issues that can be taught in schools. Newsom was also sharply critical of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after he signed into law legislation known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill — which restricts instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity for students until eighth grade.
"Talking about families is not a sexual conversation," said Schwartz. "Talking about two moms or two dads — or a diverse family, none of that is sexual."
The issue of sexual orientation has become a flashpoint at Saticoy Elementary School, where a pride flag was recently burned. The school is also dealing with the fallout of a scheduled assembly where administrators planned to read a book that mentions same-sex couples.
The issue has sparked debate about whether parents should dictate when their kids learn about potentially sensitive subjects.
"Obviously, I think that children need to be taught about the birds and the bees and everything that goes beyond that, especially in the society that we have today," said Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council. "There's a lot of different issues that kids do need to learn, but I think parents should be the primary driving force behind their kids' education when it comes to gender and sexuality."
The letter also claims that previous cases make it illegal to ban books or instruction based on gender and race. He has invited school boards to disagree with him and take him on.
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