Temecula Valley school board rejects social studies curriculum that would have included Harvey Milk

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Temecula Valley Unified School District elementary schools may not have enough social studies textbooks for the upcoming school year after a majority of the school board voted to oppose a new curriculum because it mentions slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

The board voted 3-2 on May 16 to oppose adopting a new social studies curriculum for the district's 18 elementary schools. The decision leaves the district with the only option of using the current textbook, which is no longer being printed.

Two of the members who voted against the curriculum said they opposed the mention of Milk in the textbook’s supplemental material, making a baseless accusation that California’s first openly gay elected official was a "pedophile." Another member who voted against the curriculum objected to the discussion of the LGBTQ+ community in a book meant for kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

Board members Jennifer Wiersma, Danny Gonzalez and Joseph Komrosky voted against the curriculum while board members Steven Schwartz and Allison Barclay voted in favor. Gonzalez and Komrosky voiced concerns about the inclusion of Milk in the curriculum and Wiersma opposed the mention of the LGBTQ+ community.

Milk, a pioneering gay activist, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall in 1978 by Dan White, a disgruntled former city supervisor.

Wiersma and Gonzalez said they wished parents and the community were more involved in vetting the new social studies curriculum from the start of the process. Few parents responded to a school survey.

“Whose fault is it that parents didn’t respond?” Schwartz said at the board meeting. “It’s their fault. It’s not our fault and not the teachers' fault.”

Without the approval of the new curriculum, the district will be short of the books needed for students. That could run afoul of a California law that states there must be enough instructional materials, such as textbooks, for every student.

Edgar Diaz, president of Temecula Valley Educators Assn., said having no materials means that teachers would need to find their own.

“There's a tremendous amount of work to go out and do,” Diaz said. “I remember when I first started teaching, that was kind of the norm. But now there are standards with high-stakes tests out there and so people like to have something that’s available that they can use to form the lessons around.”

Before the curriculum was proposed to the school board, 47 teachers from the 18 elementary schools piloted the textbooks during the past school year. From September through November, the teachers piloted TCI textbooks in their classrooms and from November to February, the teachers piloted Studies Weekly textbooks. After the pilot, the teachers recommended Studies Weekly for TK and K grades and TCI for first- through fifth-graders.

TCI social studies textbooks are also being used for sixth- and seventh-graders.

During the May 16 board meeting, several teachers addressed the board — asking them to trust their expertise.

“We pushed aside political views, examined materials thoroughly taking into account our students, their backgrounds and what our job is in the classroom to uphold the California social studies curriculum and framework,” said Donna Kronenfeld, a fifth-grade teacher who piloted the material. “This is something we went through with a fine-tooth comb.”

However, several board members expressed concerns with the pilot process and said they wanted more feedback from parents and the community.

Roughly 1,300 students were involved in the pilot program, and 45 parents responded to a survey asking them for feedback about the curriculum.

The Temecula Valley Educators Assn. will hold rallies on Tuesday and June 13 to try to gather community support.

“We’re hoping that the community can come around and say that teachers and students need textbooks and that the trustees should do what they are elected to and provide educators the tools they need, and provide students the ability to have success,” Diaz said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.