by Nathan Barraza
The roots of book bans initially sprouted in Tallahassee, Florida, Gov. Ron Desantis signed a bill banning over three-thousand books from schools and public libraries. As a result, a rising surge of book bans across the country galvanized religious parents and school boards against ‘inappropriate’ material found in their schools. In California, the Temecula Valley Unified School District rejected a state curriculum containing material mentioning Harvey Milk, an openly gay San Francisco board supervisor and gay rights activist. In response, California Governor, Gavin Newsom, helped propose a bill to create penalties for school districts that did not follow state curriculum rules. Those who oppose the state curriculum argue that this law will infringe upon parent’s rights to protect their children from materials they deem inappropriate for their children. On the other hand, Gavin Newsom issued a statement on the governor website that “this has never been about parents’ rights. It’s not even about Harvey Milk — who appears nowhere in the textbook students receive. This is about extremists’ desire to control information and censor the materials used to teach our children” (Newsom). Gavin Newsom claims that banning books is censorship. In addition, he points out the danger that comes with school boards that can control information within the community’s schools. This leaves us with a question: do we support parents’ rights to object to material they deem inappropriate for their children or do we follow an inclusive state school curriculum?
As an attempt to be inclusive to all Californians, Assembly Member Zbur introduced Assembly Bill 5 which sets up a program for teachers and school staff to undergo training so, “teachers and other certificated employees of schools operated by a school district or county office of education or charter schools have the tools and training they need to support and meet the needs of LGBTQ+ pupils'' (Zbur). This bill is quite short and therefore there aren’t many weaknesses to point out. The AB 5 creates a training program for teachers by the state to create a safer environment for queer individuals to freely express themselves at school without judgment. Zbur’s bill laid the foundation for another assembly bill, Assembly Bill 1078, that was approved by Gavin Newsom on September 25, 2023. This bill prohibits the banning of books by school boards based on discriminatory criteria of race, sex, or gender. This bill also creates a larger framework for schools to adopt an inclusive curriculum to show children the successes of groups
like women and LGBTQ+ members. The plain language of the bill makes it clear to stress the impact groups like these had on California and the United States as a whole. Those who wrote this bill did an amazing job with their diction leaving the bill airtight without any loopholes. I find the powers granted to the state superintendent to be pretty powerful allowing them to purchase materials for school boards that are not adhering to the bill rules. As a result, there is a large price to pay for not being inclusive in their school district having their funding reduced, and, if persistent, outright removed. Even worse, the school district could be fined money for banning books unlawfully. Gavin Newsom and his constituents acted very fast with this bill and even included the urgency clause to allow the bill to take immediate effect. Overall, a very strong move pulled by the Democratic governor. Though the bill seems strong and effective from the plain text, the interpretation from outside parties may be subject to change. This bill could be seen as the California government forcing an ideology onto the young kids within the state. If I were a parent, this bill would give me a big scare. Sure, this time it’s a more inclusive school curriculum. Next time, we might not be so lucky. Cutting funding from schools that don’t cooperate doesn’t look good to the average person either.
Parents’ Rights vs. Inclusivity
The Temecula Valley Unified School District proposes a ban against pride flags, critical race theory, and a state curriculum social studies textbook mentioning Harvey Milk. Conservative parents and the school board of Temecula make the argument that laws should allow for school boards and the parents to decide what the children of that district see and read to protect them from explicit content. On the other hand, Gavin Newsom’s AB 1078 wants to prohibit schools from banning books and gives the California State Legislature the power to make schools adopt a more inclusive curriculum. Newsom claims book banning in itself is an infringement of our right to free speech and becomes another form of censorship at the end of the day. I imagine, with how expensive it is to live in California, many parents can’t simply move to another school or send their child to a private school that aligns with their parent’s values. Such a move could put that family in a financial divot. On the contrary, children of all different backgrounds, sizes, and shapes will be present and within close proximity with one another in most schools and the United States is renowned for its diversity, so why do some seek to keep things traditional? Personally, I lean towards Assembly Bill 1078 and the solutions it brings with it. There is a way for parents to protect their children from sexually inappropriate themes and material in school, however, I don’t think that is the real issue at hand. Many religious conservatives I know succumb to the mass hysteria flying through the United States regarding LGBTQ+ members. The media pushes an agenda created by republican politicians to shield children from real-world diversity framing the issue negatively. In the plain language of AB 1078, the writer calls for accurate and inclusive information to be used in the new curriculum proposed by the democratic legislature of California. They emphasize the word “accurate” to create a real depiction of history to show how diverse groups of people, like those from the LGBTQ+ community, impacted California as a whole. I like their idea of wanting to teach future politicians, doctors, and other laborers of California to grow into sensible and conscience adults. Having said that, I will concede that parents should still have a right to review material they deem inappropriate for their child within a board meeting. If issues arise, there should be a legal pathway for parents to contest a curriculum passed by the California government. Another point of contention I have with the bill, I think a large fine for the school district of Temecula, given they don’t follow the rules laid out in AB 1078, seems tyrannical. Why not issue warnings to the members of the school board and remove them if they do not comply? A large fine impacts more people than just those sitting on the board panel. Nevertheless, I still believe banning books prevents children from learning about the vastly different people they may encounter out in the real world. Children are such curious creatures and their questions can be pushed aside by parents who seek to shield their kids from topics they disagree with. However, this delays the inevitable as children will reach an answer to their questions either with outside help or on their own.
California book bans began taking place in late July up until Gavin Newsom passed Assembly Bill 1078 in late September. The bill was written quite strongly and snuffed any
attempt at banning books based on discriminatory factors, many against LGBTQ+ school materials and displays. Conservative Californians believe they have the right to dictate what their child reads and learns in school to protect them from an improper education. They put their trust and support into school boards that align with their ideals and philosophy. Unfortunately, AB 1078 passed which allows the superintendent to enforce the new law on school boards. As a result, school boards receive penalties for not abiding by the law like a reduction of funds provided by the government or a full cut of funding altogether. I appreciate the assembly bill’s inclusion of groups under-represented in history as America is a country founded upon diversity where minorities built this country from the ground up. Knowing our history and passing it down to our young prevents us from repeating past mistakes. With this knowledge, the children of our day will grow up to change the world for the better.
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Press, Associated. “Southern California School Board Oks Curriculum after Gov. Gavin Newsom Threatened a $1.5m Fine.” AP News, AP News, 22 July 2023, apnews.com/article/gavin-newsom-temecula-harvey-milk-curriculum-6fceefd6ebe1a2017 49dccfff7ed975a.
Tania Thorne / North County Reporter, and Jonathan Franklin. “Escondido Union School District Closes Libraries for Book Audit as Banned Books Week Kicks Off.” KPBS Public
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Austin, Sophie. “California Governor Signs Law barring Schoolbook Bans Based on Racial, Gender Teachings.” AP News, AP News, 26 Sept. 2023, apnews.com/article/california-schools-book-ban-law-a8b4ebefb289a3d843b1757276115d2c.
Evains, Tyler Shaun. “Manhattan Beach Teens Battle Book Banning.” Daily Breeze, Daily Breeze, 8 Oct. 2023, www.dailybreeze.com/2023/10/07/manhattan-beach-teens-battles-book-banning/.
Franklin, Jonathan. “New California Law Bars Schoolbook Bans Based on Racial and LGBTQ Topics.” NPR, NPR, 26 Sept. 2023, www.npr.org/2023/09/26/1201804972/california-gov-newsom-barring-book-bans-race-lgbtq.
“Bill Text.” Bill Text - AB-1078 Instructional Materials and Curriculum: Diversity.,leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB1078. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.
California, State of. “Governor Newsom Issues Statement on Temecula Textbooks.” California Governor, 22 July 2023, www.gov.ca.gov/2023/07/21/temecula-curriculum-adoption/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CBut%20this%20vote%20lays%20bare,used%20to%20teach%20our%20children.