Curriculum that mentions SF gay rights leader Harvey Milk blocked by Southern California school board
Temecula’s conservative school board majority has blocked a history textbook because its supporting materials mention slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.
School board President Joseph Komrosky, who opposed the book, called Milk “a pedophile.”
In response, the Temecula teachers union staged a rally and plans another before the next Temecula Valley school board meeting Tuesday, June 13.
Last month, Temecula Valley Unified School District officials brought the adoption of a book called Social Studies Alive to the board and recommended it be approved for students in first through fifth grades for eight years. The textbook would be used starting with the 2023-24 school year and cost about $1.6 million, according to a report to the board.
But members of the board’s new conservative Christian majority raised concerns about the materials that go with the book, which mention Milk in optional supplemental resources. Milk, the subject of a 2008 film starring Sean Penn, isn’t in the actual textbook that children would have seen, Anna Tapley, Temecula Valley’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, told the board.
The board voted 3-2 May 16 against bringing the book into the district, with board members Allison Barclay and Steven Schwartz backing its approval and the board majority opposed. The vote has led some to voice concern that students could be left without a social studies book.
Milk was one of the first openly gay candidates elected to public office. While serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978, a former political colleague shot him and Mayor George Moscone to death at City Hall.
“My question is why even mention a pedophile,” asked Komrosky, one of three conservatives elected in November to Temecula’s school board. “What does that got to do with our curriculum in schools? That’s a form of activism.”
After Komrosky’s words, members of the audience could be heard reacting in surprise. Barclay said Milk was not a “pedophile.”
Komrosky replied: “I beg to differ.”
It’s not clear from a video of the meeting why Komrosky called Milk a “pedophile” and he could not be reached Friday afternoon, June 2.
In a 1982 biography of Milk, “The Mayor of Castro Street,” the late journalist Randy Shilts describes a relationship he said Milk, then 33, had with a 16-year-old named John Galen McKinley.
McKinley was living with another man “when he came in one day to announce that a handsome businessman twice his age was vying for his affection,” a passage on page 30 read.” … Within a few weeks, McKinley moved into Harvey Milk’s Upper West Side apartment (in New York City). They bought a dog they named Trick, a cat they called Trade and settled into a middle-class domestic marriage.
“At thirty-three, Milk was launching a new life, though he could hardly have imagined the unlikely direction toward which his new lover would pull him,” Shilts wrote.
But Jorge Reyes Salinas, a spokesperson for Equity California, a LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, said there’s no research to back up Komrosky’s allegation.
“It’s absurd,” Reyes Salinas said Friday. “We reject that claim.”
Reyes Salinas said Komrosky’s remark was hateful and called it an old tactic used by extremists to paint members of the LGBTQ community as pedophiles.
“That’s the most disgusting claim we’ve heard in the last few months and they should be ashamed,” Reyes Salinas said.
Also, the U.S. government vetted Milk before he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Metal of Freedom in 2009 and in 2021, when the U.S. Navy named a ship the USNS Harvey Milk, Reyes Salinas said.
During the May meeting, Barclay defended the proposed textbook, saying the district’s current curriculum is outdated and could violate the Williams Act, which according to a report to the school board, requires curriculum to match content standards set by the California Board of Education. The district could be fined more than $1 million for violating the act, she said.
“We followed the board policy,” Barclay said. “We had 47 teachers, we had 1,300 parents who had the curriculum in their household and so I fail to see why we should not approve this. There are a lot of issues that we discussed, the cost of redoing the entire thing, there are only a certain number of curriculum we can even choose from and the panel looked at several that it saw would not fit the community. I feel like our teachers chose a really great curriculum from our understanding.”
Later in the meeting, Barclay and Schwartz apologized to the teachers who spent time on the book’s approval process and said they were disappointed in the outcome.
In a statement, Temecula Valley Unified spokesperson James Evans said: “We will continue to gather additional community and parent feedback for the board.”
District officials are “not looking at changes with the publisher,” because the book is approved by the state and complies with the FAIR act, which prohibits teachers or school districts from activity that promotes discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, disability or sexual orientation.
Evans said the district is working with the Riverside County Office of Education and the state Department of Education to figure out its next steps, as well as to ensure the district meets requirements of the Williams Act.
Teachers from across the district reviewed the book and recommended its OK, according to a report to the school board. The textbook also was on display for the public to view for two weeks before it went to the board.
In response to the board’s decision, Temecula Valley teachers have called called upon trustees to “respect the expertise of education professionals” and to approve the textbook, according to a flyer from the Temecula Valley Educators Association.
The flyer also announces a 5 p.m. June 13 rally at Ronald Reagan Sports Park, from which teachers and supporters will walk to the school board meeting. Backers are asked to wear blue.
The board’s move is the latest example of concerns raised by conservatives in southwest Riverside County schools.
During the same meeting at which the Temecula school board rejected the textbook, a mother and a pastor complained about the assigning of the play “Angels in America” to a sophomore drama student at Temecula Valley High School. They said its sexually explicit language and depiction of drug use wasn’t appropriate and called for a new district policy to prevent such assignments.
In the neighboring Murrieta Valley Unified School District, the board in April declined to adopt a history book after parents and others alleged it was biased against former President Donald Trump.
In December, Temecula’s school board majority of Komrosky, Jen Wiersma and Danny Gonzalez cast the three votes needed to ban critical race theory in the district, saying it was divisive. District officials have said the district never taught the framework.
Staff writers Jeff Horseman and Monserrat Solis contributed to this report.
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