Saturday, May 18, 2024

Amid book ban fight, Newsom blasts school board president as ‘ignorant’ for calling Harvey Milk ‘a pedophile’

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Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted a Temecula school board president who voted along with a majority of the panel to reject a curriculum because a textbook mentioned gay rights activist and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk.

During a public hearing on the curriculum, Temecula Valley Unified School District board President Joseph Komrosky called Milk a “pedophile.” In a Twitter post, Newsom fired back, calling Komrosky “ignorant.”

The feud has erupted amid a nationwide trend of book bans and attacks against schools for supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

A majority of Temecula Valley Unified’s five-person board rejected on May 16 a new social studies curriculum, which included a textbook that would be assigned to the district’s 18 elementary schools in southern Riverside County.

A supplemental section of the book includes a biography of Milk, a pioneering gay activist who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was gunned down, along with Mayor George Moscone, the following year by a disgruntled former city supervisor.

The Temecula school board’s conservative majority claimed that parents did not have enough involvement in approving the social studies textbook, and two members — including Komrosky — said they opposed the book because of the section on Milk.

“My question is, why even mention a pedophile?” Komrosky asked during a hearing on the subject.

Members of the audience stammered in response and some shook their heads in video from the board meeting.

Board member Allison Barclay said, “He’s not a pedophile.”

“I beg to differ,” Komrosky said. “What does that got to do with our curriculum and schools? Why?”

Milk’s work focused on protecting classes of people from discrimination, including the LGBTQ+ community, Barclay said.

Komrosky asked, “So, you think pedophilia is protected?”

“Excuse me, absolutely not,” Barclay said. “I am not talking about pedophilia.”

Komrosky, who is a tenured college professor at Mt. San Antonio College, did not respond to requests for comment.

In a Twitter post Saturday, Newsom fired back at Komrosky.

“An offensive statement from an ignorant person,” the governor wrote. “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.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about how the state would respond, but last week, Newsom’s office, along with Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, and California Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond called on school officials across the state to be careful around the topic of book bans.

“In the first half of this school year alone, 1,477 books were banned nationally, with teachers and librarians threatened with prison time for shelving the wrong book,” the officials wrote in their letter.

“As state leaders elected to represent the values of all Californians, we offer our response in one shared voice: 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 joint letter said.

The letter did not directly address the vote in Temecula, but warned that if school administrators in California remove or ban instructional materials from classrooms or libraries, the state may request information about the removal for analysis.

Before the Temecula school board rejected the social studies textbook, roughly 1,300 students were involved in a pilot program, using the curriculum material, and 45 parents responded to a survey asking for feedback about the curriculum, according to district staff.

Also, 47 teachers agreed that the district should adopt the textbooks California Studies Weekly for kindergarten students and TCI Social Studies Alive for first- through fifth-grade students.

The board shot down the adoption in a 3-2 vote. Board members Jennifer Wiersma, Danny Gonzalez and Komrosky voted against the curriculum, while board members Steven Schwartz and Barclay voted in favor.

Without the approval of the new curriculum, the district will be short of the books needed for students, which could run afoul of a California law that requires enough instructional materials, such as textbooks, be provided for every student.

Edgar Diaz, president of Temecula Valley Educators Assn., said having no materials means that teachers would need to find their own.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work to go out and do,” Diaz said.

The board did not offer any alternatives aside from rejecting the new textbooks, Diaz said, leaving the district stuck until a new decision is made.

“If they don’t, we’re going to have 11,300 students without textbooks next year,”

The educators organization, an advocacy group, plans to rally outside the next board meeting on June 16.

Wiersma, Gonzalez and Komrosky were voted into office last year, with the endorsement of the Inland Empire Family PAC, which aims to support candidates who oppose critical race theory, LGBTQ+ acceptance and the promotion of transgenderism, according to the political group’s website.

In December, the board banned teaching critical race theory in the school district.

Lawmakers in Sacramento are now considering a bill by State Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Riverside) that would require a super majority vote from a school district’s governing body to remove a book from a school’s curriculum. Assembly Bill 1078 also would create an appeal process for parents to challenge a book ban.

“As a Christian myself, I am deeply appalled that these individuals are perverting our faith to sow division and suppress the histories of others,” Jackson said in a statement. “This will not happen on my watch.”

Times staff writer Saumya Gupta contributed to this report.

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