Newsom’s Plan to Fine School District $1.5 Million Over Blocked Textbook Lacks Legal Grounds

Newsom’s Plan to Fine School District $1.5 Million Over Blocked Textbook Lacks Legal Grounds

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after meeting with students at James Denman Middle School in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Micaela Ricaforte

Micaela Ricaforte

7/20/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

There are currently no legal grounds for California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to fine a local school district $1.5 million for rejecting what the school board says is an “inappropriate” social studies textbook, the state’s top education official confirmed July 20.

The governor announced the fine in a July 19 statement, adding that the state is securing the textbook in question for all 1–5 grade students in the Temecula Valley Unified Valley School District.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said the anticipated passing of Assembly Bill 1078—a proposal that would prohibit local school boards from excluding books that contain LGBT and other minority groups—would allow the state to intervene in Temecula’s situation. The bill contains an urgency clause for it to take effect immediately should it pass the Legislature, Mr. Thurmond said.

“Assembly Bill 1078 would establish this process and that bill is being heard in the legislature and it does have an urgency clause, so we’re waiting to see what happens with that bill,” Mr. Thurmond told The Epoch Times at an unrelated press conference in Chino, California, July 20. “We’re currently investigating the Temecula Valley Unified School District based on complaints from students about ... LGBTQ+ student needs.”
California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond holds a gender-affirming book during a news conference at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond holds a gender-affirming book during a news conference at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The bill will be heard in the state Senate Appropriations Committee after the lawmakers meet again in August after the summer recess.

Former state Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Riverside) was among the first to question the legality of Mr. Newsom’s plan.
“It appears the governor is trying to create the authority to insert himself into [the district’s] business by leaning on the anticipated passing of [Assembly Bill 1078], which is still going through the legislative process,” Ms. Melendez told The Epoch Times before Mr. Thurmond’s response. “Aside from that, no one has explained who will determine compliance, and the governor’s office has yet to cite the legal authority that would give him justification to buy books a district doesn’t want, and then charge them for those books.”
Some also claim the governor lacks the authority to impose such consequences.
“The governor does not cite any legal authority for distributing the books to Temecula Valley … students or to allow the state to do so in place of the district,” said the California School Board Association in a statement posted on Twitter, adding that the current law requires the county superintendent to request the state provide textbooks if they are unable to provide such on their own.
Parents in support of the Temecula Valley Unified school board's decision to terminate the district’s superintendent amid controversy surrounding critical race theory and other school curricula attend a board meeting in Temecula, Calif., on June 13, 2023. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

Parents in support of the Temecula Valley Unified school board's decision to terminate the district’s superintendent amid controversy surrounding critical race theory and other school curricula attend a board meeting in Temecula, Calif., on June 13, 2023. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

In response to Mr. Newsom’s announcement, Temecula Unified board president Joseph Komrosky will call a special meeting for July 21 to consider other options for curriculums that meet state standards.
“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,” Mr. Komrosky told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement. “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.”
The board president called Newsom’s announcement fiscally irresponsible.
“We do not appreciate Governor Newsom’s effort to usurp local control and all that will apparently result from these tactics is a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” he said. “We sincerely hope he has a 14-day return policy with the publisher of the books he just purchased.”
Mr. Newsom’s announcement comes one day after the school district doubled down on its rejection of a social studies curriculum that the board’s president deemed “inappropriate” due to its inclusion of an adult LGBT activist who reportedly had a sexual relationship with a minor.
The district has spent the year searching for an updated social studies curriculum as its current social studies curriculum, adopted in 2006, does not comply with updated state educational frameworks or California’s 2011 Fair Education Act, which requires schools to include historical LGBT and minority figures in social studies.
Newly donated LGBT books are displayed in the library at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Newly donated LGBT books are displayed in the library at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

However, the board voted 3–2 to reject “Social Studies Alive,” a state-approved social studies curriculum for grades 1–5 that was piloted in the district’s classrooms last semester.
The decision reflects the board’s initial 3–2 vote in May to reject the curriculum, where Mr. Komrosky, the board president, expressed concerns over the curriculum’s inclusion of activist and politician Harvey Milk—whom Mr. Komrosky then called a “pedophile” based on reports Milk, then 33, had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male.
Mr. Komrosky has since clarified that his comment did not refer to Milk’s sexual orientation.
“My remarks about Mr. Milk are not based upon [his] being a homosexual but rather, based upon an adult having a sexual relationship with a minor. I would express the same sentiments [against] any adult being [featured] in K–5 textbooks,” he said in a June press conference.
However, Mr. Komrosky’s comment gained attention from Mr. Newsom, who threatened to send copies of “Social Studies Alive” to Temecula students and to enact legislation that would fine the district if the board doesn’t accept the textbook.
“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 their job, we will, and fine them for their incompetence,” the governor said in a July 13 Twitter post.
Mr. Newsom also claimed, in the statement, that Temecula’s students would begin the school year on Aug. 14 without enough social studies textbooks for every student “because of the school board’s decision to reject a widely used social studies curriculum.”
The governor also said in the same statement he would partner with lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 1078 to prohibit local school boards from excluding books that contain “diverse perspectives.”
Attendees react to the Temecula Valley Unified school board's decision to terminate the district’s superintendent amid controversy surrounding critical race theory and school curriculum during a board meeting in Temecula, Calif., on June 13, 2023. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

Attendees react to the Temecula Valley Unified school board's decision to terminate the district’s superintendent amid controversy surrounding critical race theory and school curriculum during a board meeting in Temecula, Calif., on June 13, 2023. (Micaela Ricaforte/The Epoch Times)

In response, Mr. Komrosky said in a statement the same day that the board did not ban the textbook in question, but simply chose not to include it in the district’s social science-history curriculum.
He added that board trustees were also concerned about not getting sufficient feedback from the community during the process of selecting books and ensuring the curriculum satisfies students with special needs.
“What the governor has conveniently ignored is that members of the Board of Education expressed other significant concerns about the district’s process, including whether it had adequately engaged the community regarding the adoption of curriculum, as well as whether the proposed curriculum adequately addressed the needs of English learners and special education students,” he said.
Mr. Komrosky also called the governor’s claim that Temecula students would not have enough social studies textbooks by the start of the school year “categorically false.”
The board, he said, made arrangements with the publisher of its currently adopted social studies curriculum to ensure sufficient materials for all K–5 students in the district before the start of the school year.
This story was updated on July 20, 2023, to include State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond’s response.
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Micaela Ricaforte

Micaela Ricaforte

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Micaela Ricaforte covers education in Southern California for The Epoch Times. In addition to writing, she is passionate about music, books, and coffee.

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