Temecula teachers protest textbook decision after board president calls Harvey Milk a pedophile

Teachers in Temecula gathered Tuesday to protest the recent decision by the Temecula Valley Unified School District Board to exclude certain textbooks from the curriculum, as well as controversial comments from the board president on killed gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

The controversy surrounds the debate over a social studies textbook proposed for the fourth grade curriculum. The textbook includes a one-page supplement about Milk, which reads, in part, "He was the first openly gay man to win in election in San Francisco's history." 

During a school board meeting last month, Board President Dr. Joseph Komrosky called Milk "a pedophile," shortly before the board voted 3-2 to exclude the book from the curriculum. Milk was known for having a relationship with a 16-year-old boy when he was in his 30s.

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School board member Allison Barclay was one of the two "Yes" votes, and spoke out against Komrosky's comments at the meeting. She was one of several at Tuesday's protests.

"My interest lies with the students," Barclay said. "I'm here to do what's best for students and families, and that is to have a really robust curriculum that's been vetted by our high-quality elementary teachers," adding that she doesn't feel like the board's vote reflects that.

Edgar Diaz runs the Temecula Valley Educators Association, the teachers' union. He called the decision misguided and said it leaves teachers without resources. 

"We've had four years of big change with COVID learning to teach online, a lot of educators learning how to do education, doing hybrid learning, the following year, when they had students in class and students on the computer, then having students come back into the classrooms and working with the fallout of that," Diaz said. "And now to just manufacture a crisis again is just irresponsible."

California Governor Gavin Newsom came out against Komrosky's comments via Twitter earlier this week, callig the comment "An offensive statement from an ignorant person."

At a news conference Wednesday, Komrosky defended the remark.

Regarding Governor Newsom's Twitter statement. To me, it was never my intention to insult anyone, as it's always my intention to lead with civility. My word choice is based upon facts that represent Mr. Milk, and I don't believe those facts are a good example for our children to learn about in elementary school," Komrosky said.

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta released a joint statement with Newsom, saying they're investigating the board's "process and decision-making" with regard to the banning of the social studies textbook.

"Restricting what our children are taught in school based on animus or ideological opposition contradicts our societal values. The Board needs to explain its decision-making, and moving forward will need to ensure students have access to a wide range of ideas and perspectives," Bonta said in a statement.

Newsom added that state officials are "closely watching the actions of malicious actors seeking to ban books, whitewash history, and demonize the LGBTQ+ community in Temecula and across the state. If the law is violated, there will be repercussions."

The union hopes that they can get the textbook item back on the board agenda for another vote soon.