New policy on explicit books, materials proposed in Temecula schools

“If there are minors in this audience,” Joseph Komrosky said. “I highly suggest you leave.”

The Temecula school board president then read excerpts containing profanity, graphic descriptions of sex acts and vulgar references to women from the award-winning novel “Push” at the board’s Tuesday, June 27, meeting.

RELATED: Temecula school board hires firm for $50,000 to find new superintendent

When he was done, Komrosky said: “This is extremely evil. If you can’t see it for what it is, I don’t know what else to tell you. This needs to get out of our library.”

Komrosky’s comments came during a discussion of a proposed change to Temecula Valley Unified School District policy that would bar “pornography, erotica, graphic descriptions of violence (including sexual violence), inappropriate vulgarity or profanity, or other obscene material” from the district’s “education program (and) all of its instructional materials.”

While the board’s conservative majority supports the change to better shield children from explicit material, others worry that such a revision could open the door for banning books and depriving students of a well-rounded education.

“Good luck finding a classic that doesn’t have a swear word,” board member Allison Barclay said.

The five-member board did not vote on the policy change, which came at the request of Trustee Jen Wiersma, at Tuesday’s meeting. The proposal is expected to be the focus of further discussion.

Since winning a majority of seats in November and taking office in December, Komrosky, Wiersma and Trustee Danny Gonzalez — all of whom were backed by a local Christian conservative political action committee — have pursued an agenda that’s divided the district and turned board meetings into culture-war battlegrounds.

The trio has banned the teaching of so-called critical race theory, blocked a social studies curriculum over a reference to slain LGBTQ civil rights leader Harvey Milk and fired the district’s superintendent. Their actions, defended by conservative parents and activists, have also spurred student walkouts, protests and a recall effort.

Talking about the policy change, Wiersma referenced the controversy over a Temecula Valley High School teacher who was put on leave after being accused of forcing a student to read “Angels in America,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play with graphic language and references to the AIDS epidemic, homosexuality and drug use.

After a mom complained her 15-year-old daughter was told to read the play or fail her class, 412 Church Temecula Valley Tim Thompson, who helped elect Komrosky, Wiersma and Gonzalez, called for a district policy to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

“We’re not banning books. I think we can all agree on some level that we absolutely have to uphold standards,” Wiersma said.

“As per law, these children who are minors need to be protected,” she added. “If we think we’re fine with where we’re sitting, ‘Angels in America’ would not have been offered.”

Gonzalez voiced support for the policy change, though he argued for changing a different section of the district’s rules.

Besides quoting “Push,” a 1996 novel by author/poet Sapphire about an abused and raped 16-year-old girl, Komrosky also read from Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” a book that might be banned by the Bonita Unified School District in Los Angeles County.

Morrison’s book “is insinuating pedophila. Pe-do-phi-lia,” Komrosky said. “Why is this book in our library? Why is it accessible at all?”

“Let me just tell all you parents in the audience — when you want diversity and you want critical thinking, you want your child to accidentally get a hold of that ‘Push’ book and ‘The Bluest Eye’?” Komrosky said. “Are you out of your mind?”

He added: “That is what I want you to consider with this board policy. At what point do you want to protect kids and their innocence from this garbage? This is obscene. This is pornographic.”

Sign up for The Localist, our daily email newsletter with handpicked stories relevant to where you live. Subscribe here.

Barclay countered that the district already has rules in place about objectionable material.

“I agree there has to be a line,” Barclay said “But I also believe that … we’re not giving Playboy magazine to kindergartners.”

The problem with the proposed policy change, Barclay said, is that “everybody’s line is a little bit different.”

“When you talk about profanity and obscenity, who’s defining that and what are we going to do?” she said. “Are we going to pull ‘(The) Catcher in the Rye’ so when our kids get to college and their English teacher says ‘Remember when you read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and they say ‘Oh no. We don’t do that in our district.’”

Students, Barclay added, “don’t check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. They have the right to (a) fair and equitable education and kids don’t learn critical thinking skills if they’re never allowed to evaluate information that they disagree with …”

Trustee Steven Schwartz said anyone who has worked with high school students “and thinks they don’t talk about these things has their head in the sand.”

Noting that a Florida principal was fired after sixth graders were shown a picture of Michaelangelo’s nude “David” statue, Schwartz added: “I don’t want to go down that slippery slope unless we’re really careful about what we say.”

Wiersma said she was optimistic a compromise could be reached and “at the end of the day, this district is going to be known around the state for the best standards for caring for our students and doing it right.”

Schwartz said: “Our district is already well-known around the state, so you don’t have to worry about that.”