The Temecula Valley Unified School District board voted during the weekend to reverse a decision made by the board last week to reject California’s elementary school social studies curriculum, having the district adopt the updated social studies curriculum.
The school district has been in a battle over textbooks and curriculum since November of last year, when the school board was nearly entirely replaced during the election. Following the change of power, the new conservative majority of the TVUSD began going after different areas of study, including passing a resolution banning the teaching of critical race theory shortly after the change of power. While this prompted some student walkouts last year, the move was ultimately successful, leading to other big changes.
This included a May 2023 decision to reject textbooks that had been previously approved of in a pilot program due to concerns that included the discussion of sexuality preferences to younger grades and supplemental material to textbooks that included lessons involving LGBT activist and former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk despite Milk’s past 0f being attracted to minors. That decision was denounced by the state with lawmakers led by Governor Gavin Newsom forming new laws and shoring up violations to stop the TVUSD’s decision.
Specifically they noted violations to the 2011 FAIR Education Act, which added LGBT people and people with disabilities to the list of groups that must be represented in school texts. With Temecula rejecting the current curriculum, they would have had to use textbooks dating to 2006, and thus violating the law.
With classes in the district expected to begin on August 14th, and still no textbooks, the district was pressured to take another vote on July 18th, voting again 3-2 to reject the textbooks. In response the very next day, Newsom issued a $1.5 million fine to the district, as well as announcing a contract to get textbooks to the district that meet state standards in time for the first day of school.
“The three political activists on the school board have yet again proven they are more interested in breaking the law than doing their jobs of educating students — so the state will do their job for them,” said Governor Newsom in a statement last week. “California will ensure students in Temecula begin the school year with access to materials reviewed by parents and recommended by teachers across the district. After we deliver the textbooks into the hands of students and their parents, the state will deliver the bill — along with a $1.5 million fine — to the school board for its decision to willfully violate the law, subvert the will of parents, and force children to use an out-of-print textbook from 17 years ago.”
A school board in Temecula decided to reject a textbook because it mentioned Harvey Milk.
CA is stepping in.
We’re going to purchase the book for these students—the same one that hundreds of thousands of kids are already using.
If these extremist school board members won’t do… pic.twitter.com/r2iirL8b5v
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 13, 2023
Board reverses decision over curriculum
Faced now with even more pressure, the Temecula Valley board had an emergency meeting over the weekend in which they finally approved the curriculum, albeit while also asking district officials to review the supplementary material that discusses gay rights and same-sex legality in California. A recommendation was also added by the board to make the material age and grade appropriate while also meeting state and federal law.
Board President Dr. Joseph Komrosky specifically noted that the board had only reversed course due to a lawsuit being threatened against the board, and not due to Newsom’s threat or fine. “Gov. Newsom, I act independently and authoritatively from you. I am a sovereign citizen in the United States of America,” said Komrosky during the meeting. “If we do not provide curriculum — I want everybody to hear this — we will literally be sued.”
Newsom subsequently declared victory in the matter, while also noting that the matter was brought forward by “extremists” who wanted to “whitewash history.”
“Fortunately, now students will receive the basic materials needed to learn,” noted Newsom in a statement. “But this vote lays bare the true motives of those who opposed this curriculum. This has never been about parents’ rights. It’s not even about Harvey Milk – who appears nowhere in the textbook students receive. This is about extremists’ desire to control information and censor the materials used to teach our children.”
“Demagogues who whitewash history, censor books, and perpetuate prejudice never succeed. Hate doesn’t belong in our classrooms and because of the board majority’s antics, Temecula has a civil rights investigation to answer for.”
However, while Newsom’s action did help solidify the state response to any other district in the state wanting to try the same action, experts on Monday noted that it is only a pyrrhic victory for Newsom. While textbooks and supplementary materials are firmly backed by the state, how they are taught is still largely up to districts and teachers.
“For anyone upset with the ruling take heart in knowing that students out there are not being brainwashed or being forced to learn something with an ‘ideology’,” explained educational expert and curriculum advisor Sherri Alberts to the Globe on Monday. “What was being challenged was supplementary material, which means it could be a pamphlet, something from a guide, added pages, or something like that. And yes, it is California state law to learn about LGBT rights in there, and Temecula Valley needed to comply there by law.”
“But also realize that many teachers can quickly just go over this or mention in it just enough to comply with state standards. It’s not an entire course on it. And you also need to give kids credit too. They’re going to ask what the hubbub was about with the books, the teachers will explain, and the kids, wondering, will look up just what the problem was. It isn’t like generations past that had to go to the library to find something out. They have the internet at their fingertips, and they can get more nuanced information from there.”
“We’re seeing more and more challenges with textbooks and books in recent years, and it is largely because parents have better access to information now and can quickly point out flaws in what is in textbooks, which by the way, act more like a guide rather than what is taught. Students doing reports can easily find all sorts of factual information out there. I do walk-ins on classes all the time, and there are always students raising their hand and bringing up things not covered by the texts, or teachers giving more information or encouraging outside discovery. And not just encouraging. I’m talking mini-reports where they need to cite actual book sources and that are checked religiously against plagiarism and from having been used by AI bots.”
“Newsom won this battle with textbooks, but there is no way he is going to stop students and parents from getting the full and rounded story.”
As of Monday, state officials have yet to say if similar actions will be taken against other districts looking at possibly raising the same issues.
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