Southern California school board faces state scrutiny for blocking gay rights figure from curriculum

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta will review a Southern California school board's decision to reject social studies curriculum over its mention of gay rights hero Harvey Milk, he told the Southern California school district in a letter Wednesday.

The blue state's top cop pressed the Temecula Valley Unified School District for documents justifying its decision to block textbooks for first through fifth graders, and asked for information on its curriculum adoption policies. Bonta's office said it was "particularly concerned" by comments made by two members of the board's conservative majority, who repeated an age-old allegation leveraged by conservatives that Milk was a "pedophile" — without substantiating their claim.

"Not only could such statements reflect that the decision was motivated by a desire to erase from the history taught to students the contributions of a prominent and respected gay rights activist and leader, but they also suggest that the Board’s action may have been tainted by discriminatory animus," Bonta's office wrote in the letter. "Moreover, the invocation of a long-standing, but discredited, trope designed to demonize members of the LGBTQ community is likely to contribute to creating (if not intended to create) a hostile environment for LGBTQ students and staff, in violation of their civil rights."

Bonta, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond last week warned school leaders against restricting curriculum and cautioned that content rejections would be reviewed by the attorney general. The letter to Temecula is the first target of such a review.

“In the Golden State, our kids have the freedom to learn — and there are consequences for denying that freedom,” Newsom said in a statement Wednesday.

The Temecula school board, representing a politically diverse area north of San Diego, became a primary target of state Democrats' ire after Newsom took notice of its curriculum rejection over the weekend.

Newsom called out board president and community college professor Joseph Komrosky by name on Twitter Saturday and said his allegation against Milk was "arrogant." Milk, a former San Francisco supervisor, was one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials and was assassinated at City Hall in 1978. A biographer wrote that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old in New York when the legal age of consent there was 14, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Komrosky was not cowed by the governor's callout. "Governor Newsom, I'm glad that I have your attention. Now you have mine," the board president said at a news conference Wednesday. "In this district, God willing as long as I'm a school board trustee, I will resist any attempts from any and all sexual predators from any kind of harm to our innocent children."

Conservatives gained majority control over the Temecula board during an election last fall, and have since passed a resolution bemoaning Critical Race Theory. The board has also hired a consultant to root out CRT — an academic theory examining racism's historical influence in institutions — from instruction.

A nonpartisan PAC critical of those members — and the conservative Christian PAC that backed them — popped up during the fall. Its leaders have been mulling a recall attempt, said founder Jeff Pack, but are waiting for the dust to settle after Newsom became involved.