Gov. Gavin Newsom is intervening in a recent decision by a Southern California school board to reject social studies curriculum over its inclusion of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, marking his latest attempt to thwart book bans in the Golden State.
Newsom announced Thursday that the state would be purchasing the rebuffed textbooks and distributing them to students in the Temecula Valley Unified School District “in short order.”
His office also unveiled that the governor plans to sign legislation that would prohibit the restriction of teaching materials for political reasons and levy fines against any school district that fails to provide adequate instructional materials.
“We’re all worried about access to information,” Newsom said in a video speaking directly to the parents in Temecula. “Your kids have the freedom to learn and you have the freedom to access those books — the same books that hundreds of thousands of other kids throughout the state are accessing.”
The Temecula Valley Unified School Board — a majority of whose members were backed by a conservative evangelical pastor — voted in May to reject new elementary social studies materials over a brief mention of Milk.
School board President Joseph Komrosky referred to California’s first openly gay elected official as a “pedophile” and questioned why he would be featured, calling it “morally reprehensible.”
This was the latest move by the school board’s newly minted conservative majority to roil teachers, parents and students. In December, the board passed a resolution banning the teaching of critical race theory in its schools. Critical race theory is the study of how racism continues to shape key institutions, such as the criminal justice system, banks and housing.
The board’s decision on the textbook got Newsom’s attention in early June, when he called Komrosky’s comment an “offensive statement from an ignorant person.”
Newsom said many of the district’s 11,387 students have now been left without a textbook for the start of the new school year on August 14. And the short supply of textbooks available will be outdated versions published in 2006.
Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond in early June cautioned against instituting any book bans and warned that curriculum restrictions may require school districts to answer to the attorney general. Less than a week later, Newsom and Bonta zeroed in on Temecula and requested district officials provide justification for their rejection.
The board president did not explain during the board meeting why he called Milk a “pedophile.” The allegations against Milk appear to echo a narrative shared by some conservatives that revolve around a relationship Milk had with a 16-year-old in the early 1960s when Milk was twice that age, according to a biography of Milk by Randy Shilts. The age of consent at that time was 14.
The textbook at the center of the controversy — titled Social Studies Alive — is one of four standard programs adopted by the State Board of Education and is widely used in elementary schools across the state. Milk does not appear in the actual textbook, but a photo and short biography of the gay rights leader was included in supplemental resources optional for teachers to use in class, the district’s curriculum director told the board at the time of its vote.
Newsom is working with the legislature and Thurmond to advance AB 1078, which would prohibit school boards from banning books that contain “inclusive and diverse perspectives.”
The measure, authored by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson, would require a supermajority vote for a school board to remove instructional materials. It would also establish a process for the state Department of Education to purchase instructional materials for districts that fail to provide them for students and institute a funding penalty against those same districts.
“It is my honor to have the Governor’s support of Assembly Bill 1078,” Jackson said in a statement. “This sends a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated.”
This story was initially revealed July 13, 2023, 3:44 PM.