March 3, 2024

California fines school district $1.5 million for rejecting materials mentioning Harvey Milk

LOS ANGELES – California Gov. announced. Gavin Newsom fined $1.5 million against the Temecula Valley Unified School District less than a day after conservative board members voted to reject the state-endorsed curriculum that includes a short biography of gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

In addition to the fine, the district will have to pay the $1.6 million in shipping costs associated with sending the materials to the district, which it had previously promised to do if the board did not approve the materials.

“After we deliver the textbooks into the hands of the 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, defy the will of the parents, and force children to use an out-of-print textbook from 17 years ago,” Newsom said Wednesday in a statement.

Harvey Milk outside his camera shop in San Francisco in 1977.Bettmann Archives

School board president Joseph Komrosky previously said he would reject any such shipments, but school board members who voted in favor of the learning materials say they support the governor’s actions.

“Rejecting the curriculum was a mistake,” board member Steven Schwartz said Wednesday. “When you play with fire, sometimes you get burned.”

Board member Allison Barclay said it is “horrific to hear of a fine of this magnitude.”

“Our students deserve the best, and I believe this new curriculum, which has been piloted by 47 teachers and 1,300 students, is a great resource for our district,” she said in an email. “I am hopeful that we can work with the state to come into compliance and avoid any undue financial burden on our district that will only hurt our students in the end.”

None of the three conservative school board members responded to requests for comment.

But Newsom didn’t hold back on sharing his disagreements with Komrosky, Jennifer Wiersma and Danny Gonzalez.

“The three political activists on the school board have proven once again that they are more interested in breaking the law than doing their job to educate students — so the state will do their job for them,” Newsom said in a statement.

“California will ensure that students in Temecula start the school year with access to materials that are reviewed by parents and recommended by teachers across the district,” he said.

Tuesday night, during a nearly six-hour meeting that turned chaotic at times, three school board members backed by a conservative political action committee with ties to an evangelical church voted to deny supplemental materials to children in grades one through five.

The president of the school board called Milk a “pedophile” and many of the attendees, many of them from outside the school district, gave passionate speeches against teaching anything that refers to sex or homosexuality to elementary-age students.

Attendees countered that Milk was an important figure in California and a hero to underrepresented communities whose legacy deserves to be taught in schools.

Many also argued that any reference to Bainne would be limited to a short biography that would only be available in supplementary materials and that a change to the curriculum just four weeks before the resumption of classes would disrupt teachers and their lesson plans.

“The state having to be able to provide curriculum materials that comply with state law shows that the extremist board majority is not fit to rule and only listens to outside agitations instead of local parents and teachers,” said Jennee Scharf, a Temecula high school English teacher.

Scharf is among several educators and residents who support the recall of the three conservative school board members six months after they took office.

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