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Conservative Temecula school board president trails narrowly in ongoing recall vote tally

Temecula school board President Joseph Komrosky listens during a meeting.
An effort to recall Temecula Valley Unified school board President Joseph Komrosky, shown at a board meeting last year, is narrowly leading in election results through Wednesday night.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Temecula Valley school board President Joseph Komrosky — a religious conservative who pushed through policies to limit discussion on racism, disallow the display of Pride flags and require the disclosure of students’ gender identities to parents — is trailing narrowly in a recall election, based on ballots counted through Friday evening.

Komrosky was elected as part of a three-member conservative majority in November 2022. Upon taking office near the end of that year, the bloc immediately thrust the Riverside County school system of 28,000 students to the forefront of the nation’s culture wars.

Two policies — restricting the teaching of critical race theory and notifying parents of student gender identification — resulted in ongoing litigation.

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Another effort, to reject a portion of the state’s curriculum related to the contributions of LGBTQ+ residents, resulted in a state threat to fine the school system, prompting local officials to back down substantially.

The tally suggests that the community is closely divided: 4,934 people voted to remove Komrosky and 4,720 voted to keep him in office — a difference of 214 votes, or slightly more than 2 percentage points.

Only about 130 ballots remain to be counted. Officials also will tally any vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on or before election day, June 4, that are received by June 11.

If Komrosky were to be recalled, it would end a 2-2 stalemate that has existed since Komrosky ally Danny Gonzalez resigned in December after announcing he was moving out of state. The five-member school board will not be complete until after elections in November.

“People are fed up with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” said Preston Miller, 21, a recall supporter who graduated from a local high school. “They’re fed up with the racism we’ve seen from the school board. We’ve stood up to them and we are winning. I am so proud of our community, the place where I grew up.”

Komrosky was not immediately available for comment. But parent Ryan Waroff said recall supporters were incorrectly framing the debate. Komrosky was elected because residents “wanted him to take a stand against some of the state’s interference in local decisions regarding school boards,” Waroff said.

In the end, Waroff said, it was an uphill fight to overcome establishment forces that included the state government and teachers unions.

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Komrosky’s supporters backed his efforts to assert Christian-based moral values and combat what they see as the harmful sexualization of young children — causes they believed most parents would support.

Recall supporters viewed Komrosky as wasting precious education funds to pursue legally questionable, divisive, unnecessary and mean-spirited policies.

Tuesday’s balloting affected only Komrosky’s District 4 seat, representing the eastern and central portion of the district.

Komrosky’s board majority had followed a policy playbook that has come to characterize that of religious conservatives elected to local offices, including once-sleepy school boards that have enormous influence on what and how children are taught in public schools.

Komrosky put his religious conviction front and center — his bio on the social media platform X declares: “God fearing patriot who loves our country. Full time College Professor teaching logic and critical thinking, and servant of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”

But his policies also were intended and presumed to have broad appeal.

“Parent’s rights have been revoked and ignored,” he wrote on his website opposing the recall. “I will advocate strongly for family rights and our children’s rights regarding their safety and education. I will stand against unnecessary school mandates that harm families.”

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For him, this included a parental notification policy intended to alert parents when their children exhibited any sign of identifying with a gender other than the one on their birth certificate.

Komrosky and his allies say they believe parents have a fundamental right to be involved in all aspects of their children’s lives, especially on matters as consequential as gender identification.

Opponents contend that blanket parent-notification policies violate student privacy and civil rights in state law and the education code — and that the near-universal outing of transgender students to parents would put some children at serious risk.

The legality of parent notification policies remains in play. The Chino Valley and Temecula school boards approved essentially identical policies — and each district was sued. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta sued the Chino Valley Unified School District, and a coalition of parents, students, individual teachers and the teachers union sued Temecula Valley.

The judge in the Chino Valley case found the policy to be substantially illegal in a preliminary ruling. And Chino Valley subsequently approved a revised policy, which it hopes will accomplish the same purpose while passing legal muster.

A different judge upheld Temecula Valley’s policy, a ruling that is being appealed.

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“Cancel culture has gone too far in Temecula,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, regarding banned books in Temecula.

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That lawsuit also alleges the board majority has been hostile toward LGBTQ+ topics and students — citing the board’s refusal to adopt a state-approved curriculum for elementary schools that includes a brief, optional passage in fourth-grade material about late San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, the state’s first out gay elected official, who was assassinated in 1978.

A threatened fine by Gov. Gavin Newsom prompted the board to approve the curriculum, which had been recommended by teachers and administrators and was in line with state learning standards.

The issue is not over. The board voted to move this fourth-grade lesson on California civil rights movements to the end of the year, to give time to find an “age-appropriate curriculum” that could be substituted in place of “sexualized topics of instruction.”

The lesson in question includes paragraphs noting that LGBTQ+ individuals and groups fought for civil rights, including the right to marry, but has no discussion of sex.

The Temecula litigation also seeks to overturn the district policy to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, an academic legal framework taught at some colleges and universities that examines how racial inequality and racism have been systemically embedded in American institutions.

Critical race theory has been another culture-war tinderbox across the nation. The Temecula list of banned concepts embodies common conservative assertions, including that teachers use critical race theory to make white students feel guilty about being white. Many education experts consider this characterization of how teachers have been dealing with the topic of race to be inaccurate and incomplete.

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Temecula is apparently the only California district facing litigation over its policy on critical race theory.

But culture war issues are playing out in other Southern California school districts including Orange Unified and Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified in Orange County and Murrieta Valley Unified in Riverside County. Similar ideological struggles have unfolded in Rocklin Unified and the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, both north of Sacramento, and the Anderson Union High School District in Shasta County.

Times staff writer Ian James contributed to this report.

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