Governor Newsom Will Charge California School District Accusing Him of ‘Tyranny’ $3 Million for Textbooks That Reference Harvey Milk
The governor is siding with the teachers union against parents who say they want to keep sexual matters out of elementary school curricula.
In the latest round of tug-of-war between California and parents of public school students, Governor Newsom, itching to throw his hat into the presidential contest if President Biden falters in the 2024 primary, announced he would charge a school district more than $3 million after it rejected textbooks with references to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office.
The fight surfaced after Mr. Newsom announced he would purchase textbooks rejected by the Temecula Valley School District for including material on Milk. The governor said on Wednesday that he would fine the school district $3.1 million for the books and send them to parents.
The rejection of the book — called “Social Studies Alive!” — comes at a time of intense scrutiny of school curricula in America, as some states, such as Florida and Iowa, have attempted to remove nearly all material discussing sexuality and LGBT topics from the classroom, while Virginia passed a law a year ago that required schools to report any sexually explicit material in their curricula and give parents the opportunity to opt their children out of these lessons.
At a school board meeting on Tuesday, dozens of parents decried the governor’s effort to introduce material discussing sexuality and gender ideology into the school curriculum, and used the controversy as a rallying cry to push back against what one parent called the “sexualization of children.”
Mr. Newsom, who seems poised to jump into the 2024 race should Mr. Biden drop out, announced the state’s plan to charge the district $1.5 million for purchasing and $1.6 million for shipping to students in the district. Accusing the school board of “subvert[ing] the will of parents” by forcing students to use an “out-of-print textbook,” Mr. Newsom declared that he would buy the social studies books discussing Milk after the school board voted 3 to 2 to block the books from the curriculum.
The section of the book raising concerns discusses Milk’s move to San Francisco to live in the “Castro,” a hub at the time for LGBT residents, as well as Milk’s work to “help gay-owned businesses” and his election as an openly gay man, according to a screenshot of the page on Milk obtained by ABC News.
The board president went so far as to refer to Milk, who was assassinated in November 1978, as a “pedophile,” a reference to Milk’s relationship at age 34 with a 16-year-old. In a biography of Milk, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Randy Shilts, writes that the 16-year-old was “looking for a father figure.”
The decision to block the book from the curriculum sparked a protest from some teachers and parents. The board meeting for the district also devolved in March, after the board announced it had hired an anti-critical race theory consultant. Some of the board members of the Temecula Valley school district now face a potential recall, but, at Tuesday’s meeting, the majority of speakers defended the board.
A local pastor, Tim Thompson, who said he has hundreds of parents and students from the district in his congregation, called the governor’s actions “tyranny.”
“Our governor steps up and says, ‘I don’t care what parents in Temecula Valley want,’” Mr. Thompson said, paraphrasing the governor’s words as, “‘I don’t care what the local people want — I am going to step in and do what I want.’”
A parent from the district criticized the school system and the government’s treatment of students and their parents, saying that “trusting teachers, especially those aligned with a union, is like trusting a politician at this point.”
In a video on Twitter, Mr. Newsom emphasized that the same books are available “quite literally to hundreds of thousands of kids” and told viewers that, though the ban has “created a lot of anxiety,” he would procure the books, send them down to the district, and charge the school district for them.
“Let’s do our best, all of us, to soften the edges of these debates and to make sure that we provide accurate information and the freedom for our kids to learn,” Mr. Newsom said. “That, after all, is the California way.”
Opponents of the board’s moves have accused the government of banning books, and Mr. Newsom here positions himself as a contrast to Governor DeSantis, a Republican presidential hopeful, who championed Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Act.
A proponent of the school board’s action praised the response from parents, who are “taking a stand” for their children, as proof that the “pendulum is swinging” toward parental control over education.
“Do not let the threats of the governor dissuade you from your position to not allow inappropriate material in the district,” the speaker said. “People of common sense and goodwill are standing together with you here and around the nation.”