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California state leaders vow to provide textbooks for students after a school board rejected a social studies curriculum

<i>California Governor's Office</i><br/>California Gov. Gavin Newsom appears in a video message to parents. A statement from the governor’s office on July 13 said the state will provide textbooks for students after a school board rejected a social studies curriculum.
California Governor's Office
California Gov. Gavin Newsom appears in a video message to parents. A statement from the governor’s office on July 13 said the state will provide textbooks for students after a school board rejected a social studies curriculum.

By Cheri Mossburg, CNN

(CNN) — After a Southern California school district rejected a state-endorsed social studies curriculum that includes material on gay rights, top state officials are vowing to buy a textbook in question and distribute it to students before the new school year.

“That social studies book is being censored by the local school board,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a video message directed at parents in the city of Temecula.

A statement from the governor’s office Thursday said the state will “secure textbooks for students” in the district if the school board “fails to take action at its next board meeting” next week.

The announcement is the latest dispute between state and local officials after the Temecula Valley Unified School District’s board voted 3-2 on May 16 to reject the curriculum, with some board members claiming there was not enough parental involvement in the curriculum creation process as well as making comments attacking gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk.

The curriculum – for grades one through five – contains supplemental resource material for teachers that includes a short biography of Milk, who is believed to be the first openly gay politician elected to public office in California in 1977. The materials describe his lifestyle and his work for gay rights in California until his assassination in 1978.

Many parents at a June public hearing decried the school board’s rejection of the curriculum, and the board is due to review at its next meeting on July 18 a new proposed curriculum that should meet state standards, according to the board’s president.

The Temecula board has previously drawn attention for firing its superintendent without cause, according to the Los Angeles Times, and banned critical race theory from school curricula in December.

State can deliver materials, Newsom says

Newsom’s announcement Thursday also contained statements from state legislative leaders, including Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who collectively rejected what they described as a book ban.

“California will secure textbooks for students in Temecula if the local school board fails to take action at its next board meeting and the state will enact legislation to impose fines on any school district that fails to provide adequate instructional materials,” the governor’s office said in a news release.

In response to the governor’s announcement, Joseph Komrosky, who serves as the president of the district’s board and voted against the curriculum, said the district “did not ‘ban’ a book at its May 16, 2023 regular meeting. Instead the Board of Education determined not to adopt as curriculum a history-social science program for District-wide use that had been part of a pilot study conducted by the District.”

Komrosky added that board members shared concerns about supplemental material he described as “not a textbook” that was part of that curriculum related to a lesson for fourth graders about Milk.

Board members who opposed the curriculum called Milk a “pedophile” in the May meeting before voting it down. The 34-year-old Milk had a relationship with a 16-year-old while living in Greenwich Village in New York that has long been a source of controversy, according to the late San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts’ biography of Milk, “The Mayor of Castro Street.” The age of consent in New York was raised from 14 to 18 in 2017.

Komrosky said in June that his statements about Milk “were not based upon him being a homosexual, but rather based upon him being an adult having a sexual relationship with a minor.”

In Thursday’s response, Komrosky continued, “But what the Governor has conveniently ignored is that members of the Board of Education expressed other significant concerns about the District’s process, including whether it had adequately engaged the community regarding the adoption of curriculum.”

The proposed social studies curriculum was part of a pilot process started last year and included 47 classrooms with 1,300 students, Kimberly Velez, assistant superintendent of Student Support Services, said during the May meeting.

The curriculum rejected by the Temecula school board is one of four standard, state-approved textbooks being used across hundreds of school districts in California, the governor’s office said Thursday.

“Cancel culture has gone too far in Temecula: radicalized zealots on the school board rejected a textbook used by hundreds of thousands of students and now children will begin the school year without the tools they need to learn,” Newsom said in the statement.

“If the school board won’t do its job by its next board meeting to ensure kids start the school year with basic materials, the state will deliver the book into the hands of children and their parents — and we’ll send the district the bill and fine them for violating state law.”

CNN reached out to each member of the Temecula Valley Unified School District for further comment.

Board member Steven Schwartz said, “I believe the Governor is acting in the best interest of our students. I have supported the (social studies) textbooks based on the expertise of our teachers who piloted the program.”

Board member Alison Barclay said, “I am pleased to hear that the State of California is willing to support our students and ensure that they have access to the most up to date and accurate information. … Our students deserve the best and having to continue to learn from a completely outdated curriculum that doesn’t meet state standards is not what’s best for our students.”

Thurmond has sponsored legislation that, if passed, would impose fines on districts that fail to provide adequate instructional materials, according to a news release.

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CNN’s Aya Elamroussi, Taylor Romine, Elizabeth Joseph and Alexandra Coenjaerts contributed to this report.

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