School district approves materials mentioning Harvey Milk after governor threatens $1.5 million fine

California governor Gavin Newsom wears a suit and tie as he gestures off screen.

A California school board adopted a social studies curriculum that includes LGBTQ+ rights activist Harvey Milk just days after being threatened with a $1.5 million fine from the governor. 

The Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) has been in an ongoing battle over supplemental social studies materials that referenced Milk, who was the first openly gay man elected to office in the state and was assassinated in 1978.

The controversy first erupted in May when conservative school board members at the district east of Los Angeles first rejected materials mentioning Milk.

TVUSD board president Dr Joseph Komrosky rejected the materials and made the bigoted accusation that Milk was a “paedophile”. The comment drew the ire of Governor Gavin Newsom, who called the school district president “ignorant”. 

Newson then warned that the district could face a $1.5m fine if it didn’t use the state-approved curriculum, CBS News reported. Additionally, the school district would have to pay $1.6m in shipping costs associated with sending the materials to the schools, which Newsom vowed to do if the board didn’t approve the social studies curriculum. 

A TVUSD board meeting Friday (21 July), which was called after the governor promised to impose the hefty fine on the district, finally ended the tumultuous back and forth as board members voted to adopt the curriculum. 

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Following the decision, Newsom released a statement to express his happiness that “students will receive the basic materials needed to learn”

“But this vote lays bare the true motives of those who opposed this curriculum,” the governor said. 

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“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.”

Newsom added that California’s Department of Education is investigating the TVUSD board majority’s actions.

Many Temecula parents have been angered by the school board’s decisions, and see them as a wilful disregarding of public opinion. CBS News reported that an overwhelming majority (98.8 per cent) of TVUSD parents voted to adopt the new curriculum, according to governor’s office data.

Temecula Valley Unified School District president Dr Joseph Komrosky  wears a black shirt as he speaks into a microphone while a meeting takes place to discuss materials mentioning Harvey Milk
Temecula Valley Unified School District president Dr Joseph Komrosky repeatedly rejected supplemental social studies materials that mentioned Harvey Milk. (Getty)

After Newsom threatened to sanction the school district, Komrosky claimed the Southern California school district was “not done with its work on the curriculum for the 2023-2024 school year”

“Despite our continuing work and commitment to core values, governor Newsom has taken unilateral action to intervene in the middle of our work without even contacting the school district first to understand what the school district may be further doing to meet all of the curriculum needs of our students,” Komrosky said. 

“What he calls inaction we see as responsible considerations for all of our community’s viewpoints as we come to a final decision and with time left to do so.”

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