The culture wars took place in a California suburb. A leader has been ousted.

From the start, the three conservative members of the Temecula Valley Unified School District board made their position clear. On the same evening in December 2022 that they were sworn in as a majority, they passed a resolution banning critical race theory in classrooms in their Southern California district.

A few months later, they abruptly fired the superintendent, saying they thought the district needed someone with new ideas. After that, they passed a rule requiring parents to be notified whenever a student asks to be identified as a different gender at school.

The moves were applauded by conservatives, many of whom were faithful Christians who had helped install the new board members, hoping that the Temecula Valley could remain an island of traditional values ​​in a liberal state.

But this once-rural area, located about 60 miles northeast of San Diego, has transformed in recent decades into a diverse bedroom community, and many other families have become frustrated with what they saw as the he unwelcome incursion of the national culture wars into their precious public schools.

That backlash came to a head this month when voters recalled Joseph Komrosky, a military veteran and community college professor who had served as school board president since that December night. M. Komrosky’s ouster was made official Thursday evening.

“People are moving here so they can enroll their kids in the school district,” said Jeff Pack, whose One Temecula Valley PAC led the recall effort. “They don’t want all this partisan political warfare, this cultural war to get in the way.”

Across California, conservative board members were elected in the same wave that swept away Mr. Komrosky, and his office colleagues are facing similar recall efforts.

In March, two conservative Orange County board members were recalled for supporting policies similar to those adopted by the Temecula Valley board. The same month, an administrator backed by a Moms for Liberty group in a district outside Sacramento was ousted after she called transgender identity a “social contagion.” Next month, voters in a small Bay Area district will decide whether or not to remove two conservative board members.

There were no school board recalls in a California runoff last year, according to Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the California Constitution Center at Berkeley Law, who closely tracks recalls nationwide. The similarly themed recalls against conservatives in California this year are unusual, he said, because in the past, most ouster attempts were motivated by a specific local conflict.

“This is a hot-button issue that voters are very engaged on,” he said.

Temecula, like many inland California communities, has grown in recent decades by attracting a wide range of families away from cities closer to the coast. (In 1990, Temecula’s population was 27,099, according to census data. In 2023, it was about 110,700.)

The city is within walking distance of northern San Diego County, home to large military installations and technology companies, as well as southern Orange County and Riverside. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Ana Mountains, Temecula is a special destination for young parents looking for larger homes than they can get in more expensive coastal suburbs – without sacrificing access to top-rated public schools.

But the policy is far from being settled. The recall barely passed, with 51 percent voting in favor of recalling Mr. Komrosky and 49 percent against. Only 212 votes out of 9,714 separated the two camps.

It was close enough that Mr. Komrosky said he would most likely run for the seat again in November.

“My commitment to protecting the innocence of our children in Temecula schools remains unwavering,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Komrosky and two conservative colleagues were elected to the Temecula Valley Unified Board of Trustees in November 2022, amid a wave of efforts by like-minded groups to elect school board members across California. Many conservatives believed it was better to spend their resources trying to influence local schools to join a national “parental rights” movement rather than trying to elect state-wide legislators or leaders. of the state in a California dominated by Democrats.

Of the three Temecula Valley Unified board members elected in 2022, only Jennifer Wiersma, who describes herself as a faith-driven “parental rights advocate,” remains; The board’s other conservative member, Danny Gonzalez, resigned in December to move to Texas. His seat is vacant.

Mr. Komrosky’s supporters and the majority of the board blamed his ouster on the state’s political establishment and unions. They said school board conservatives who tried to limit LGBTQ history teaching and add notification requirements for children’s gender identification did so to protect parents’ rights.

Temecula Valley’s conservative bloc angered Democratic state leaders last year when they refused to approve a social studies curriculum that mentioned Harvey Milk, the murdered gay rights pioneer — whom Mr. Komrosky called him a “pedophile”. They then changed course after the governor. Gavin Newsom threatened to fine the district $1.5 million.

“It is sad and scary that good people are being targeted for standing up for parental involvement and common sense in improving our children’s education,” said Sonja Shaw, an outspoken conservative activist. talk who heads the board of directors of the Chino Valley Unified School District, not far from Temecula. . The Chino Valley district is currently engaged in a legal battle with the state to defend its parental notification policy.

Leaders of the campaign to recall Mr. Komrosky said parents in Temecula — and across California — had long taken for granted that school boards generally focused on the mundane work of maintaining school buildings, recruiting competent teachers and to ensure the smooth running of extracurricular programs. Today, many say the actions of the new board have brought them back into the spotlight.

Mr. Pack said he launched the One Temecula Valley PAC in 2022 to recruit candidates for local, nonpartisan offices, including the Temecula City Council, where he felt recent elected officials were using their positions to make statements national policies rather than focusing on local government affairs. He cited a Temecula city council member who tried to make the city a “sanctuary” for the unborn, even though abortion is legal in California and cities cannot ban the procedure.

He said he quickly found that ousting school board members was a top priority for many parents, who felt the group led by Mr. Komrosky executives had racked up unnecessary legal bills and distanced themselves from their student education mission.

In a recent case, the district agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two residents who Mr. Komrosky had pulled out of school board meetings because he called them disruptive. Residents claimed he violated their right to free speech; Lawyers for one of them, Upneet Dhaliwal, said in a complaint that Mr. Komrosky claimed his questions about the superintendent hiring process were off-topic.

MS. Dhaliwal, 42, moved in 2022 from San Diego to Temecula with her husband and daughter, who will be in eighth grade in the district. When they were looking for a new community, Temecula met their two main requirements: good schools and affordable housing.

MS. Dhaliwal said she never called her daughter’s teacher in San Diego, where “usually an email would solve any problem.” But after seeing Temecula in the media for defying the state’s social studies curriculum, she decided to attend the meeting in which the board fired the superintendent. She was alarmed.

“I came home,” she said, “and the recall seemed like the only option. »

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