A battle over curriculum took months to resolve in a Southern California school district. The ensuing chaos became a flashpoint in America’s culture wars. After failing to pass the proposed content in May, the Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) voted to approve “Social Studies Alive” material for grades 1 through 5 in late July.
Typically, adopting new teaching material and textbooks is a routine process. However, the Republican majority vetoed adopting the Education Department-recommended curriculum in a 3-1 vote. According to the Los Angeles Times, the board’s conservatives and voices from the parents’ rights movement feels including “LGBTQ+ topics in the materials as sexualizing and inappropriate.”
The social studies program’s supplemental content includes information about former San Francisco Mayor Harvey Milk. TVUSD Board Member Allison Barclay voted to adopt the state-approved program. She told CNN that “the curriculum in question is titled “California’s Cultural Contributions. Within the lesson, […] are several sections, such as artists, architects, writers, [and] educators, discussing Californians who made substantial contributions in these areas.”
Barclay further explained the social studies class materials: “Under the heading ‘Protests,’ one paragraph discusses gay rights in California, and under the heading ‘Court Cases,’ there are two paragraphs that discuss the court cases that allowed gay marriage in California.”
Specifically, one of the supplemental resources discusses gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who is thought to be the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to office.
This supplement also teaches about the 1978 assassination of Milk and then-current San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.
Social Studies Curriculum Discussions Between May and July
The school board’s conservative majority rejected adding Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI) “Social Studies Alive” to the school district’s approved materials twice. After the first vote on May 22, 2023, the naysayers claimed that there was insufficient parental involvement in the creation process.
TVUSD board members Joseph Komrosky, Jennifer Wiersma, and Danny Gonzalez voted to quash the program despite knowing that doing so would break California state law which demands LGBTQ+ content be part of the grade school curriculum.
According to Balletpedia, Komrosky and Gonzalez disagreed with the textbook’s supplemental material about Milk. Both called then-33-year-old Milk a pedophile referring to an unverified news report that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old. Gonzalez told CNN: “I find the inclusion of sexually based topis and the glorification of a known pedophile who happened to be an advocate for gay rights to 10-year-olds morally reprehensible and inappropriate.”
On the other hand, Wiersma voted against the social studies curriculum on slightly different grounds. She complained there had been too little input from parents.
However, the curriculum was piloted by 47 educators across the district’s 18 elementary schools before being sent to the school board for approval. Parents were also invited to review the textbooks, which have been available in Temecula’s school libraries since March.
Wiersma cited California Education Code § 51100: “Family and school collaborative efforts are most effective when they involve parents and guardians in a variety of roles at all grade levels from preschool through high school.”
She complained about not seeing American exceptionalism in the “Social Studies Alive” materials. Wiersma also declared that she did now want her third grader to study LGBTQ+ issues.
The board member also noted she did not see everything the TVUSD needed to see. She asserted: “We are going to hit the standards, but if we are totally going to utilize TCI, we need to talk about bias. I don’t see a fair and balanced viewpoint, I don’t see the civics.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta requested more information about why the board rejected the social studies textbook in a statement released on June 7. According to Ballotpedia, the governor warned: “California is closely watching the actions of malicious actors seeking to ban books, whitewash history, and demonize the LGBTQ+ community in Temecula and across the state.”
Newsom referenced the 2011 Fair Act, which mandates California school districts to teach the history of “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans,” among other subjects. The governor also called out Komrosky’s comments about San Francisco’s former mayor as “an offensive statement from an ignorant person.”
Recall Efforts to Oust Conservative Board Members
In response to the conservative effort to block the proposed social studies curriculum, the One Temecula Valley Political Action Committee (OneTV Pac) served Komrosky, Wiersma, and Gonzalez with notice of the recall efforts against the trio on June 13. They were given Letters of Intent to Petition.
The PAC’s website says, “We understand that the chaos created by these board members has caused concern and frustration within our community. Therefore, we are taking action to ensure that our schools can move forward in a positive direction.”
But that did not change the conservative board members’ minds. Reportedly, the TVUSD reviewed the textbook again before voting 3 to 2 against the “Social Studies Alive” curriculum. This drew a harsh response from Governor Newsom. He “announced the state would fine the district $1.5 million for violating state law ad send it copies of the textbook, charging an additional $1.6 million to cover the shipping,” explained Ballotpedia.
After the governor’s announcement, the school board approved the new curriculum on July 21 with a 4-0 vote. Ballotpedia reported that Weirsma and Komrosky voted with the other members; Gonzalez was absent. The TVUSD members agreed to postpone one fourth-grade supplemental lesson on the gay rights movement for further review.
Gonzalez, Wiersma, and Komrosky joined the school board after winning the 4-year position in November 2022. The trio has the Inland Empire Family PAC’s endorsement. The PAC supports “conservative candidates who stand up for parental rights.”
Click here for more information about TCI’s “Social Studies Alive” curriculum.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Ballotpedia: Three members of the Temecula Valley Unified School District face recall effort after voting to reject social studies curriculum
The Los Angeles Times: Temecula school board adopts social studies curriculum, avoids fine but faces civil rights inquiry; By Harriet Ryan
CNN: Parents protest California school board after social studies curriculum rejected; By Taylor Romine, Elizabeth Joseph, and Anexandra Coenjaerts
One Temecula Valley PAC website: Recall information
Riverside Record: Temecula Valley USD Fails To Adopt Elementary Social Science Curriculum; by Alicia Ramirez
EdSource: Temecula board again votes to reject textbooks, despite warnings from Newsom; by Diana Lambert, Mallika Seshadri, and John Fensterwald
CBS News: Gov. Newsom fines Temecula Valley school board $1.5 for rejecting new curriculum
Featured and Top Image by Element5 Digital Courtesy of Unsplash
First Inset Image by CDC Courtesy of Unsplash
Second Inset Image by Getty Images in Collaboration With Unsplash+
Third Inset Image by CDC Courtesy of Unsplash