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The Student News Site of Mt. San Jacinto College

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The Temecula Valley School District Soap Opera

Temecula Valley United School District Logo

Between the liberal havens of Los Angeles and San Diego lives the smaller suburban community of Temecula in Southwest Riverside County. For the most part, Temecula has lived quietly in the background. Yet Temecula made headlines in 2022 with the election of 3 far-right evangelical Temecula Valley Unified School District board members, Danny Gonzalez, Jennifer Wiersma, and Dr. Joseph Komrosky.

The Temecula Valley Unified School District (or TVUSD) has thirty-three schools and currently educates 28,468 students. Five board members of differing districts represent each school and student. Allison Barclay, who first resought election in 2022 after being appointed to her role in 2021, and Steven Schwartz, a retired MSJC professor in the math remediation program, were the only incumbents successfully reelected. Both members were largely nonpartisan.

 

CRT Ban

Even before the inauguration of the new board, legislative controversies arose. On Dec. 13, 2022, new board member Joseph Komrosky announced he would introduce a ban on “Critical Race Theory” (or CRT) education within the TVUSD on the day of his inauguration. Despite heavy student, staff, and parent protests, the board still took up the ban. It passed it with a 3-2 split, the three in favor being Komrosky, Wiersma, and Gonzalez.

The legislation takes an inherently racially blind stance on history and social studies education, rejecting the existence of modern white supremacy and white privilege. Along with describing CRT as a “divisive ideology that assigns moral fault to individuals solely on the basis of an individual’s race and, therefore, is itself a racist ideology.” CRT, a legal lens of analysis primarily used to analyze racial bias in American law and legal practices, was not taught at TVUSD. Yet many detractors say this ban is too vague and ultimately white-washes American history.

Soon after the board passed the anti-CRT curriculum, the board’s far right wing debated hiring special attorney Jonathan M. Brenner from Epstein Becker Green law firm due to safety concerns from student protests and legal advisors concerned solely with the board. In another 3-2 split, the board voted to hire the legal council, costing taxpayers $620 an hour for separate private meetings.

Erasure of Queer History

Pexels

On May 16, 2023, in yet another 3-2 vote, the board voted to ban a curriculum textbook mentioning the first queer man to run for office successfully, Harvey Milk. During the board meeting, Board President Kromosky and Board Trustee Gonzalez commented that Milk was a pedophile. Neither Kromosky nor Gonzalez provided substantial evidence for these claims. The mentions of Milk, however, were not in the textbook but within the supplemental resources, meaning a student would have to seek out Milk’s biography. As a result of the banning, students would be left using a 2006 textbook, violating 2011 state law mandating students must learn about the contributions of queer people to American history.

Since the board reached national headlines, Governor Gavin Newsom has been a staunch critic. However, Newsom did not simply act with his words, as on Jul. 19, 2023, Newsom released a statement.

“California will ensure students in Temecula begin the school year with access to materials reviewed by parents and recommended by teachers across the district. After we deliver the textbooks into the hands of students and their parents, the state will deliver the bill — along with a $1.5 million fine — to the school board for its decision to willfully violate the law, subvert the will of parents, and force children to use an out-of-print textbook from 17 years ago.”

Directly after Newsom’s statement, the board hosted a special meeting on Jul. 21, 2023. In a 4-0 decision, the board voted to accept the state-approved textbook Social Studies Alive! Although some board members had their reservations about three paragraphs in a single chapter discussing the history of gay rights in California.

As the textbook controversy was well underway, TVUSD Superintendent Jodi McClay was experiencing some troubles herself. On Jun. 13, 2023, the board, in a 3-1 decision, voted to fire the long-time public servant. In a statement, Board President Kromosky described the reasoning as “We thank Dr. McClay for her long service to the school district, but the majority of the board determined that it was time for new leadership, with new ideas.” In her place, the board temporarily appointed the previous assistant superintendent, Kimberly Velez, who is still the Superintendent of TVUSD.

Attacks on Queer Students

rainbow flags (Pexels Carolina Grabowska)

As the school year rolled in, so did the legislation from the board. The board began to take its focus away from marginalized people in the curriculum to marginalized students in the TVUSD. As of Aug. 23, 2023, the board voted in a 3-2 decision that schools must notify parents if their child identified as transgender. The policy insists if a student asks to be referred to as a gender other than the one assigned at birth; staff will then have to notify parents of this change within three days. This vote not only strips the agency and choice of coming out but will also forcibly out many students to families violently unaccepting of queerness.

At the next regular board meeting, the board discussed implementing a policy restricting the types of flags that could be present in TVUSD schools. The policy states:

“No flag other than the United States of America and State of California may be displayed on school grounds, including classrooms, unless it is a country, state, or United States military flag used solely for educational purposes within the adopted curriculum. Any other flag must be approved by the Superintendent or designee before displaying, if and only if, it is used for educational purposes and only during the related instructional period.”

As a result, banned flags would include identity-based flags such as the pride flag and flags representing political movements. The board voted in another 3-2 decision to implement the policy.

The vote would lead to a wave of student activism, specifically on TikTok, in which students would hand out pride flags, going against the board’s policy. At the forefront of this is 16-year-old Great Oak High student Moxie, who posted videos of his work, getting over 750,000 views on his most popular video.

Union Conflict

The Temecula Valley Educators Association (TVEA)  and the TVUSD board have had a recent history of conflict due to the board’s recent decisions affecting teaching and curriculum. When it came time for raises, this conflict did not change. The union had previously reached a tentative agreement, including an 8% ongoing compensation increase and a 1.5% one-time increase in pay. The board was simply the last stopgap in the way of this raise. Yet the board could not get the votes to either pass or reject the agreement as Barclay and Schwartz voted to pass, Komrosky and Wiersma abstained, and Gonzalez was absent from the meeting.

However, surprisingly, in a 5-0 vote on Oct. 17, the board chose to implement the cost of living increase. As a result, over 13,000 employees of varying positions, such as teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and nurses, will see an increase in pay to combat existing inflation and medical costs.

Activist Investment

Because of the many controversies listed above, Temecula citizens, with One Temecula Valley PAC, an organization “in response to a genuine and dangerous threat to local governance posed by political and religious extremist views.” began to organize a recall vote. They officially notified the board of this movement on Jun. 13, 2023. Various groups would later support the effort, such as the TVEA, the Southwest Riverside branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and District 5 of the League of United Latin American Citizens. (LILAC)

Temecula Valley Unified School District meeting (Hugo Aguilar)

For the recall election to appear on the March 2024 ballot, the organizers must get over four thousand signatures in one of the board member’s districts. However, even recalling one of the board members would heavily disrupt the conservative majority.

This is not to say that nobody is pro-board, as the most prominent supporters of Gonzalez, Wiersma, and Kromrosky are the Inland Empire Family Pac and Temecula’s branch of the 412 Church, both run by Pastor Tim Thompson. A vocal Christian conservative, Thompson has become more prominent in local Temecula politics by from his PAC and inviting Congresswoman Marjory Taylor Green to a sermon. The goal of the IE Family PAC is “Working together to elect  bold, pro-parent rights candidates to our local school board.” The PAC has identified the main issues with current public education as “​​Transgenderism Encouraged,” “Forced LGBTQ+ Acceptance,” and “Parents Are Labeled As Barriers.” The Pac has successfully elected six members, the previous three of the TVUSD board, Nick Pardue and Courtney Cooper of Murrieta Valley Unified School District, and Jill Leonard of Lake Elsinore Unified School District.

The election and legislation from far-right members of the TVUSD board have shocked those outside the county. However, those within have been well aware of Temecula’s issues with bigotry, from a 2019 incident in which graffiti had called a specific black student racial slurs or in 2021 when cheerleaders from Moreno Valley’s Valley View High School, were harassed with racial slurs by Temecula Valley High School students. The city will only become more fraught and divided as political extremism rises.

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About the Contributors
Diego Trejo, Writer / Photographer / Outreach Coordinator
Hi, my name is Diego Trejo. I am majoring in sociology, with a long-term goal of gaining my master's in urban planning. I have always had a deep passion for social, political, and cultural commentary or critique and hope to express that passion in my time at the Talon. However, in my off time, I enjoy consuming film, music, and sewing, viewing them as avenues towards self-expression.
Hugo Aguilar, Co-Editor, Writer, Video Content Producer/Editor, Photographer
Major: Advanced Audio Technology Hi my name is Hugo:) I am apart of The Talon. My Hobbies are that I like to draw, watch anime, play video games, watch tv shows and movies, I like to hangout with friends, I like to go to the movie theaters, and I like to go Hiking as well. I hope you guys enjoy the time being in The Talon. I hope you guys like my Bio.

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    Wendy KalwaitisNov 2, 2023 at 8:39 am

    That about sums it up. Just the facts. However they also waive the conflict of interest in hiring a law firm that actually wrote into their retainer agreement that they will only be pro bono so long as TVUSD board does not settle. They law firm and the board actually agreed to accept to Disincentive Settlement which literally goes against the duties to uphold was is in the best interest of the district. Surely if it is in their best interest to settle and it will be given it’s actions are illegal and unconstitutional then not doing so will cost taxpayers an obscene amount of money.

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  • D

    Daniel BreesNov 1, 2023 at 1:04 pm

    The church should be held accountable for imposing its far-right extremist views upon an entire city. The actions of the school board are reprehensible and display their incompetence and ignorance towards history and child safety.

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    • B

      BradNov 1, 2023 at 8:12 pm

      None of these board members are part of or affiliated to the church 412. Some went to many churches and advocated for parents who wanted a change in this community. I vote to keep these three. It’s about time the people elected someone bold to stand up to the opposition of our beliefs. Our children are not theirs. And their children are not ours, but there is no forced or insinuated religious beliefs pushed on these kids. It’s simply removing controversial and political text and content from the school.

      Reply