TEMECULA, Calif. - A Southern California school board has voted to approve a social studies curriculum for elementary students, resolving a dispute with Gov. Gavin Newsom over lesson plans that mentioned the state’s first openly gay elected public official.
The Temecula Valley Unified School District had previously voted to reject the curriculum in part because some board members were concerned the curriculum’s supplementary material mentioned Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco supervisor and gay rights advocate who was assassinated in 1978. Some board members also said parents had not been adequately consulted about the curriculum.
Rejecting the curriculum meant the district would have to use a textbook published in 2006. Those textbooks do not comply with a 2011 state law that requires schools to teach students about the historical contributions of gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Newsom, a Democrat who has often sparred with Republicans in other states over banning books, threatened to fine the district $1.5 million if it didn’t approve the curriculum.
The board approved the curriculum during a special meeting late Friday night. They also instructed the district’s interim superintendent to review a portion of the curriculum that includes a discussion of gay rights and how same-sex marriage came to be legal in California. The board recommended "substituting age appropriate curriculum" that complies with state and federal law but "is also consistent with the board’s commitment to exclude sexualized topics of instruction from elementary school grade levels."
Board President Joseph Komrosky said the vote was not in response to Newsom’s threat, but rather to avoid a lawsuit.
"Gov. Newsom, I act independently and authoritatively from you. I am a sovereign citizen in the United States of America," Komrosky said during Friday’s meeting. "If we do not provide curriculum — I want everybody to hear this — we will literally be sued."
Newsom said Friday’s vote ensures "students will receive the basic materials needed to learn."
"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," Newsom said. "This is about extremists’ desire to control information and censor the materials used to teach our children."
Textbooks have become a flashpoint in U.S. politics ahead of the 2024 presidential election. In Florida, state education officials revised Black history curriculum to comply with a law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also running for president. The new curriculum includes teaching that people who were enslaved benefited by learning new skills.
Kimberly Velez, the district’s interim superintendent, assured board members that staff would order the new curriculum on Monday and it would arrive in time for the start of school next month.
"I don’t believe that what has happened over the past few weeks was necessary," board member Allison Barclay said. "I think we could have made this happen so much earlier. We could have been so much more ready for school to start. It’s a little unfortunate it had to go this far."