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Southern California school district sued over ban on teaching critical race theory

Three Temecula Valley Unified school members, elected in December with the support of a far-right pastor, immediately passed a ban on teaching critical race theory.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Teachers, parents and students filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Temecula Unified School District over a recently enacted prohibition on teaching "critical race theory or other similar frameworks."

"The vague resolution hinders Temecula educators' ability to teach state-mandated content standards, prepare for the coming academic year, and support rather than stifle student inquiry," the plaintiffs write in the 63-page complaint, filed in Riverside County Superior Court.

"In turn, Temecula students are deprived of the opportunity to engage in factual investigation, freely discuss ideas, and develop critical thinking and reasoning skills."

At a press conference Wednesday morning plaintiff attorney Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel said the suit was the "first-ever civil rights action, in California, challenging the imposition of curriculum censorship, of what students can learn about American history, about racial and gender subject matters, and about their racial and gender identities."

Rosenbaum said the resolution, if allowed to stand, would in time "replace education with indoctrination. open mindedness with bigotry, truth with falsehoods."

The five-member Temecula Valley Unified School Board was upended by the November 2022 election in which three new members were elected — Joseph Komrosky, Danny Gonzalez and Jen Wiersma — thanks in part to a backlash against Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccines mandates, as well as support from a right-wing pastor, Tim Thompson.

On the very day the new board majority was sworn into office, Dec. 13, 2022, they passed Resolution 21 by a narrow 3-2 vote, banning critical race theory "or similar frameworks" from being taught in classrooms.

Though the resolution was deliberately vague on what exactly it meant by "similar frameworks," it listed a number of examples of "specific elements" of critical race theory that could not be taught: that "racism is racial prejudice plus power;" that "racism is ordinary, the usual way society does business;" that "an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist and/or sexist, whether consciously or unconsciously;" and that "individuals are either a member of the oppressor class or the oppressed class because of race or sex."

Also expressly banned is the teaching that the "advent of slavery... constituted the true founding of the United States," a clear reference to the New York Times Magazine's "1619 Project."

A minor exception in the resolution says that social science courses "can include instruction about critical race theory, provided that such instruction plays only a subordinate role in the overall course and provided further that such instruction focuses on the flaws in critical race theory."

The resolution kicked off months of protests in Riverside Valley, revealed deep fault lines in the community and sparked a new culture war.

Jennifer Scharf, a Temecula Valley teacher and a plaintiff in the suit, said at the press conference that the new school board majority brought "outside agitators" to school board meetings to support the resolution. And according to the lawsuit, board members Komorosky and Wiersma appeared on national news shows to call for "'boots on the ground' to monitor 'what's going on in the classrooms.'" Komrosky also promised enforcement against "rogue teachers."

Students and teachers who oppose the board majority have been harassed online, Scharf said.

"It's really a hostile work environment. It's a tough place to work right now," the teacher said. "And more importantly, it's a tough place to learn and have your voice heard by students."

Teachers at the press conference read statements from the anonymous student plaintiffs, including one that said, "Many teachers and students censor themselves in the classroom to avoid controversial topics out of caution."

The board majority has since the resolution gone even further by firing the popular school superintendent and rejecting certain teaching materials, like a 4th grade textbook with a section on Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold office in California.

Governor Gavin Newsom threatened to fine the school district $1.6 million for the decision, which was in violation of state law, and announced he was launching a civil rights investigation by the California Department of Education. Last month, the school board backed down and said it would conform to the state's standards for social studies textbooks.

Meanwhile, opponents of the right-wing majority have started a signature drive to recall the three board members.

The lawsuit, a civil rights complaint, represents a third front in the battle over Temecula Valley Schools. It charges Resolution 21 with violating the state's constitution, impeding the "free exchange of ideas" and discriminating on the "basis of viewpoint." It claims the resolution will inflict "disproportionate harm" on students and teachers of color, those who are female and those who identify as LGBTQ.

Rosenbaum said the plaintiffs will seek a preliminary injunction to block the district from enforcing Resolution 21.

In a written statement, School Board President Joseph Komrosky said: "In my view, this suit effectively represents an effort by those behind it to secure the ability to use CRT and its precepts of division and hate as an instructional framework in our schools." He added: "I do not believe that CRT or any racist ideology is a suitable educational framework for classroom instruction at the elementary and secondary level."

Gonzalez and Wiersma did not respond to emails requesting a comment on the lawsuit.

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Categories / Education, Politics

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