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Conservative California school board OKs curriculum on gay rights activist after Newsom threatened $1.5M fine

A California school district approved a curriculum mentioning gay rights activist Harvey Milk after Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened a $1.5 million fine.

A conservative school board in southern California reversed course and approved a social studies curriculum referencing gay rights activist Harvey Milk, after Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened a $1.5 million fine. 

The Temecula Valley Unified School District had previously voted to reject the curriculum in part because some board members were concerned the curriculum's supplementary material mentioned Milk, the former San Francisco supervisor and gay rights advocate who was assassinated in 1978. They voted unanimously to approve the material for instruction in Riverside County

In addition to the reference to Milk, some board members also said parents had not been adequately consulted about the curriculum. 

The change of heart came two days after Newsom, a Democrat who’s been rumored for a potential presidential run in 2024, threatened the district with a $1.5 million fine.

"Fortunately, now students will receive the basic materials needed to learn," Newsom said in a statement Friday. "But this vote lays bare the true motives of those who opposed this curriculum. This has never been about parents’ rights. It’s not even about Harvey Milk – who appears nowhere in the textbook students receive. This is about extremists’ desire to control information and censor the materials used to teach our children." 

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"Demagogues who whitewash history, censor books, and perpetuate prejudice never succeed," Newsom added. "Hate doesn’t belong in our classrooms and because of the board majority’s antics, Temecula has a civil rights investigation to answer for."

Rejecting the curriculum meant the district would have to use a textbook published in 2006. Those textbooks do not comply with a 2011 state law that requires schools to teach students about the historical contributions of gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The board approved the curriculum during a special meeting late Friday night. They also instructed the district's interim superintendent to review a portion of the curriculum that includes a discussion of gay rights and how same-sex marriage came to be legal in California. The board recommended "substituting age appropriate curriculum" that complies with state and federal law but "is also consistent with the board's commitment to exclude sexualized topics of instruction from elementary school grade levels."

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Board President Joseph Komrosky said the vote was not in response to Newsom's threat, but rather to avoid a lawsuit. 

"Gov. Newsom, I act independently and authoritatively from you. I am a sovereign citizen in the United States of America," Komrosky said during Friday's meeting. "If we do not provide curriculum – I want everybody to hear this – we will literally be sued."

On Tuesday, the school board initially voted by a 3-2 majority to reject the adoption of the new social studies curriculum. And in threatening the $1.5 million fine in response Wednesday, Newsom charged that "three political activists on the school board have yet again proven they are more interested in breaking the law than doing their jobs of educating students." 

Newsom has often publicly sparred with Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. 

In Florida last week, the state department of education revised Black history curriculum to comply with a law signed by DeSantis. The new curriculum on the history of slavery in the U.S. states, "Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit." 

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During a speech in Jacksonville, Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris charged that the state curriculum meant, "middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery" – a categorization a CNN commentator disagreed with after reading the standards established by African American scholars. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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