A small group of teachers, students, and parents as well as the local teachers’ union from a California community are suing the school board and district for passing a resolution banning “critical race theory,” which they argue censors teachers and restricts students’ fundamental rights.
About a dozen teachers, students, and parents along with the Temecula Valley Educators Association, a teachers’ union that represents more than 1,300 members, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in California Superior Court against the Temecula Valley Unified School District.
The school board passed the resolution, which bans the teaching of “critical race theory and other similar frameworks,” in December 2022. Board members have used the resolution’s provisions to eliminate from Temecula’s classrooms any concepts that conflict with their ideological viewpoints, including the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and the existence of racism in today’s society, the plaintiffs claim. The resolution also conflicts with the teaching expectations in California’s state standards, according to the lawsuit.
“The resolution says critical race theory, but what it targets is clear: it’s basically any attempt to make schools more equitable and more inclusive spaces for the most marginalized students in these communities,” said Amanda Mangaser Savage, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “This has really engendered a climate of fear and suspicion in Temecula classrooms. And in that sense, it’s really antithetical to the purposes of public education.”
Critical race theory is an academic framework that posits that racism is systemic as opposed to only individual acts of discrimination. It’s taught more often in college classrooms than in K-12 schools.
The vagueness of the language in the resolution and the consequences for educators who violate it have created a chilling effect, the lawsuit argues. Since the resolution was passed, the board has paid consultants to explain the harms of CRT, and called for the removal of certain books about race and LGBTQ+ issues from school libraries and classrooms, according to the lawsuit and local news reports. Some students have protested against the resolution, claiming that it violates their constitutional rights to learn and be free from discrimination.
How Temecula fits into the national anti-CRT movement
Since 2021, 18 states have passed laws restricting schools from teaching lessons about race and racism, often conflating these lessons with “critical race theory.” California is not one of those states. Rather, it has taken steps to expand education on racism, and the contributions of specific racial and ethnic groups to U.S. history.
But even in states without anti-CRT laws, school boards and parent groups have challenged curriculum choices, removed library books, and called for teachers to take down flags or banners supporting social justice causes.
Educators, civil rights organizations, students, and parents have filed lawsuits in at least four states against state laws that restrict education about race, racism, sex and gender. At least one of the lawsuits, in Arizona, was successful in its efforts to reverse the law.
As in those other lawsuits, the Temecula plaintiffs claim that the district and board violated California’s constitution because the anti-CRT measure discriminates based on a viewpoint, features vague language, and restricts the freedom to learn. The resolution disproportionately impacts teachers and students of color, and LGBTQ+ staff and students, since books and lessons about people with those identities have been restricted or removed, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit calls for the resolution to be declared unconstitutional under state law.
“Though I am not able to speak to the CRT lawsuit at length, I’ve been committed to helping create neutral classrooms without divisive ideology and activism,” said Jennifer Wiersma, one of the board members who supported the resolution in a statement to Education Week. “All students deserve a stellar education at TVUSD and should be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
The resolution: who passed it and why
In 2022, three new board members who self-identified as conservative were elected to Temecula’s five-person school board. In an interview with Fox News in December 2022, two of the three new members said the resolution was a way of keeping their campaign promise to parents who did not want “political activism and divisive ideology” in Temecula classrooms.
“To us, CRT is divisive. It judges educational outcomes on the color of somebody’s skin and not their character, and it’s un-American,” Joseph Komrosky, the resolution’s sponsor, said in the Fox News interview. “So that’s why I felt it urgent to put forward the resolution, and obviously it got voted in.”
The board passed the resolution in a 3-2 vote. The resolution calls CRT a “divisive ideology that assigns moral fault to individuals solely on the basis of an individual’s race.”
It contains much of the same language as some states’ anti-CRT laws. While it does not contain any details about enforcement, in his Fox News interview, Komrosky described a “boots on the ground approach” to assessing what is being taught in classrooms in the nearly 27,000-student district.
“We have [administration] to ensure that rogue teachers don’t insert their own ideology into the classroom,” he told Fox News.
Impact of the resolution
The resolution has resulted in mass confusion for teachers, according to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Three veteran teachers who are part of the lawsuit against the district and the board said they do not understand how to teach California standards without violating the terms of the resolution. For example, California expects 4th graders to learn about the state’s civil rights movement, the movement for gay rights and marriage equality, and contributions of leaders such as Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official.
Amy Eytchison, a 4th grade teacher, said in the lawsuit that she is forced to choose between complying with a board directive from a July 2023 meeting that is an outgrowth of the resolution and bans teachers from teaching about LGBTQ+ rights and Milk, and thus failing to meet state content standards, or teaching the forbidden concepts and jeopardizing her job.
Komrosky has also called for the removal of 16 books about race, racism, and LGBTQ+ people from school libraries based on the resolution, including titles such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Looking for Alaska by John Green, according to the lawsuit.