Editorial: Newsom right to stand tough on textbooks

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday July 19, 2023
Share this Post:
Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office
Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office

The state of California will not tolerate public school districts that ban textbooks based on false claims by district officials. As readers are likely aware, the Temecula Valley Unified School District in Southern California earlier this year nixed updated social studies textbooks for students because a 3-2 majority on the school board rejected curriculum that was recommended by teachers and supported by parents and community members. The board president, Joseph Komrosky, called gay slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk a "pedophile" and did not approve the textbook, "TCI Social Studies Alive," because it mentioned Milk in supplemental materials.

Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond reminded the board that it must follow the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful, or FAIR, Act, signed into law by former governor Jerry Brown in 2011. It states that a "teacher shall not give instruction and a school district shall not sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, or sexual orientation."

It was the first such law of its kind in the nation. Since 2017, state officials have approved a number of textbooks under the FAIR Act. According to Newsom, Temecula Valley's curriculum is outdated and in violation of state law.

Last week, Newsom said that the state would step in and begin the process of securing textbooks for Temecula school district students. He was joined by Thurmond, lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), and gay Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., who has authored Assembly Bill 1078. It would ensure school districts in California are using instructional materials inclusive of the role and contributions made by Latino Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, and members of other religions and socioeconomic groups to the "total development" of the state and the country.

Jackson's bill, for which Newsom announced his support, would also require a two-thirds supermajority for a school board to remove instructional materials or curriculum, establish a process for the state to purchase standards-aligned instructional materials if the district fails to provide them, and institute a funding penalty for school districts that do not sufficiently provide standards-aligned instructional materials.

"Cancel culture has gone too far in Temecula: radicalized zealots on the school board rejected a textbook used by hundreds of thousands of students and now children will begin the school year without the tools they need to learn," Newsom stated. "If the school board won't do its job by its next board meeting to ensure kids start their school year with basic materials, the state will deliver the book into the hands of children and their parents — and we'll send the district the bill and fine them for violating state law."

Newsom and the other leaders' announcement is welcome news, particularly with the new school year starting next month in many parts of the state, including Temecula. We've seen an uptick in school boards that have far-right members trying to usurp state law or local policies because of their personal beliefs. Last month in Hayward, a homophobic school board member tried — unsuccessfully — to torpedo a resolution in support of Pride Month and fostering an inclusive curriculum. This is a ridiculous example of elected school board members not acting in the best interests of students.

Book bans are intolerable; they deprive students of the ability to learn about things like history and people different from themselves. It's part of the culture war extremism, as Atkins pointed out, that doesn't belong in public school classrooms. We've seen how book bans stifle education among kids; it's no accident that many of the regularly banned books deal with LGBTQ issues.

Locally, people are taking steps to change that dynamic. As we reported last week, Fabulosa Books in the Castro is sending banned books to organizations in conservative states. It has already shipped at least six boxes with a goal of 500. Customers can purchase books for the boxes, owner Alvin Orloff told us, and the store pays for the postage.

Meanwhile, in the East Bay city of Richmond, gay City Councilmember Cesar Zepeda is working to publicize banned books by reading them to audiences. The first event is this Saturday, July 22, at the Multicultural Bookstore, with future events to be held at the Richmond Main Library.

"The banning of books is just so crazy, and they are banning books because they want to ban certain communities and their voices," Zepeda said.

We're glad the state is taking a tough stance with the Temecula school district. There are more than 1,000 school districts in the state that are responsible for educating 5.9 million students in grades transitional kindergarten through high school. We don't need other districts thinking they can operate the way Temecula has been by flagrantly violating state law. LGBTQ students, students of color, and others have long not seen themselves in school curricula. Now that California has a law in place to ensure inclusivity and representation in instructional materials, school districts must follow it.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.