TEMECULA, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom is intervening in a controversy over textbooks with an LGBTQ+ reference in Temecula's school district, saying the state will buy the books itself and fine the district for violating state law.
Earlier this year, the Temecula Valley Unified School District rejected textbooks and curriculum materials for an elementary school program because they included references to slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
The school board president even referred to the LGBTQ+ icon as a "pedophile," drawing outrage from Newsom and other leaders across the state as well as protests from teachers in the district.
"California is stepping in," Newsom declared on Thursday.
"We're going to purchase the book for these students - the same one that hundreds of thousands of kids are already using. If these extremist school board members won't do their job, we will - and fine them for their incompetence," said Newsom.
Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated in 1978.
Newsom said he and state legislators are working on laws that would fine school districts for failing to provide adequate 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 said.
"If the school board won't do its job by its next board meeting to ensure kids start the 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."
District staffers have previously noted that the textbooks themselves do not actually refer to Milk, but he is mentioned in supporting materials available to students in upper grades.
The school board also fired the long-time district superintendent in response to the controversy.
Joseph Komrosky, the school board president who made the "pedophile" remark, said he was referring to Milk's purported relationship with a 16-year-old and said he was not motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
"My comments have been misappropriated as an attack on the LGTBQ community," Komrosky said in a June statement. "Absolutely not. My comments were non-gender specific, non-sexual orientation specific, and direction to my view, and the view of the California legislature: that 33-year-old adults should not have sexual relationships with a 16-year-old minor, regardless of gender."
After the governor's statements Thursday, Komrosky said Newsom was mischaracterizing the board's actions and the rationale for its decision.
"The Board of Education of the Temecula Valley Unified School District did not 'ban' a book at its May 16, 2023 regular meeting," Komrosky said in a written statement. "Instead, the Board of Education determined not to adopt as curriculum a history-social science program for District-wide use that had been part of a pilot study conducted by the District."
He said there were multiple concerns, not just about Milk but also about whether the community was properly engaged in the discussion and whether the needs of English learners and special-education students were also addressed.
He said a new curriculum will be presented to the board for review at its July 18 meeting.
He also said statements that the district would not have enough books are untrue because arrangements have already been made to obtain books based on the existing district curriculum.
If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live
Stay with ABC7 News for the latest details on this developing story.