Culture Wars in Education: Southern California School Board Rejects Mention of Harvey Milk in Curriculum
A heated debate over a three-paragraph mention of gay rights figure Harvey Milk in state-endorsed curriculum has turned the Temecula Valley Unified School District into a battleground for culture wars. The controversy has escalated as conservative school board members voted to reject any materials containing references to Milk, sparking widespread discussions on education, inclusivity, and cancel culture.
The tumultuous school board meeting witnessed passionate exchanges between parents, teachers, and community members, resulting in the ejection of at least three individuals by law enforcement officers. The meeting also saw the appearance of stickers in support of the far-right Proud Boys group on multiple cars in the parking lot.
The controversy began when conservative school board members rejected the mention of Harvey Milk, prompting a response from Governor Gavin Newsom, who pledged to provide learning materials that include a short biography of the San Francisco civic leader. Despite California law requiring public schools to have enough textbooks for every student and promoting a diverse understanding of American history, the school board has not approved replacement learning materials after rejecting state-endorsed curricula.
This situation reflects a broader trend of conservative groups attempting to influence school boards with ideologically aligned members, as witnessed in the Glendale Unified School District’s confrontation over recognizing Pride Month. The school board has become a platform for partisan debates, leading to calls for the recall of the three board members who opposed the state-endorsed curriculum.
Skylar Tempel, a lifelong Temecula resident and organizer of the recall effort, argues that the ongoing controversy has drawn unwanted attention to the community, diverting focus from more pressing issues. Board member Steven Schwartz, with over 40 years of teaching experience, expresses concern that history is being distorted for political purposes, fearing that it might eventually lead to the denial of established historical facts.
Temecula, like many other communities in the U.S., has experienced culture wars during the pandemic, particularly regarding mask and vaccine mandates. The rise of conservative groups such as the Inland Empire Family PAC, connected to a local evangelical church, has contributed to the election of conservative school board members in various regions, including Temecula Valley. These board members have taken steps to ban critical race theory and remove the superintendent, further deepening divides within the community.
Proponents of the ban on mentioning Milk argue that he was a sexual predator, referencing a disputed claim of an inappropriate relationship with a minor. Opponents contend that changing the curriculum weeks before the school year begins would disrupt teachers’ lesson plans unnecessarily. The state attorney general has intervened, demanding information from the school district regarding its decision to reject the social studies curriculum for grades one through five.
Gia Rueda, a Temecula resident with children in the school district, criticizes the conservative school board members for bringing unnecessary attention to the community. She asserts that the curriculum had already undergone proper vetting and approval by a majority of TVUSD parents and teachers, emphasizing that the issue should not have arisen in the first place.
However, Tim Thompson, the founder of the Inland Empire Family PAC and an evangelical pastor, contends that Milk is not someone deserving of celebration. In response to these developments, Governor Newsom and State Education Chief Tony Thurmond are backing a bill targeting school districts that refuse to adopt state-endorsed curriculum. The proposed legislation would impose fines on districts failing to provide textbooks aligned with inclusive and diverse perspectives.
As the battle over Harvey Milk’s mention continues, the Temecula Valley Unified School District remains at the forefront of the national debate over education, inclusivity, and the role of school boards in shaping young minds. The outcome of this conflict will likely influence future education policy decisions and serve as a significant test for how states address similar disputes in the years to come.