Conservative Temecula school board president officially loses recall vote

TEMECULA, CA - JULY 18, 2023: School Board President Joseph Komrosky listens during a contentious special meeting about textbook on July 18, 2023 in Temecula, California. The conservative majority on the school board is at the center of a debate with Gov. Gavin Newsom who has threatened to fine the board over $1 million because of their resistance to include a lesson involving Harvey Milk.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Joseph Komrosky, shown at a 2023 school board meeting in Temecula, has lost a recall by a narrow margin. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A conservative public school board president in Temecula whose promotion of policies on race and gender thrust the district into the national battle over critical race theory in the classroom and the rights of LGBTQ+ students narrowly lost a recall vote, officials announced Thursday.

Joseph Komrosky, a Mt. San Antonio College philosophy professor, was elected to the board of the 28,000-student Temecula Valley Unified School District about 19 months ago. As part of a three-member conservative majority, he steered the district as it joined a national wave of school boards jumping head-first into the culture wars.

The district was sued after banning the teaching of critical race theory and requiring that parents be notified if their children identified as a gender that did not match the one assigned to them at birth. The litigation is ongoing. Under Komrosky, the district banned non-U.S. and non-California flags, a move seen as targeting LGBTQ+ Pride flag displays. At a school board meeting last year, he also stirred controversy when he described gay civil rights pioneer and San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk as a "pedophile."

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

The final results in the recall election found voters narrowly opposed Komrosky, who represented the eastern and central portions of the district, staying in office.

Of 9,722 ballots tallied since June 4, those in favor of recall totaled 4,963. There were 4,751 opposed to the recall.

Fewer than half of the 21,578 registered voters — 45.1% — voted.

The recall ends a 2-2 stalemate on the board since a Komrosky ally, Danny Gonzalez, resigned in December to move out of state. The board will not have its full five members until the election in November.

In a Thursday email to The Times, Komrosky, who in his X bio calls himself a "God-fearing patriot," said he leaned toward running for a seat once more.

"Given the narrow margin, I will likely run again in the November 2024 general election," Komrosky said.

"If not, it has been an honor to serve the Temecula community, and I am proud to have fulfilled all of my campaign promises as an elected official. My commitment to protecting the innocence of our children remains unwavering," he said.

The message echoed one Komrosky gave at the end of the last school board meeting on June 11. During that meeting, however, he seemed more adamant about running again. "I want to thank my community for allowing me to represent your voices, and I look forward to serving my community again, beginning in November," he said.

Read more: Transgender rights vs. parent rights. California goes to court to settle school divide

Thursday's announced result was celebrated and lamented.

"We did it! We did it!" said Monica La Combe, a district resident for 21 years whose children graduated from high school in Temecula Valley. A son graduated this year, and another child, who is nonbinary, graduated in 2022.

"What this board came in and did was was crazy. They just came in and made everybody scared and made our community look really, really bad with respect to who we are and how our children are educated," La Combe said. "This recall election was important in order to get our district back on the trajectory of progress that we were headed toward.

"We have conservatives and liberals," she added, speaking of the community, "but what they were doing was just really extreme."

Jason Craig, a parent of two boys who attend elementary school in the district, expressed disappointment in Thursday's election result.

"Conservative parents don't want our children to be taught as social justice warriors. The school district isn't the place for that," said Craig, who had volunteered for Komrosky's campaign and previously narrowly lost in his own run for the board.

Craig said he supported Komrosky's policies as "preemptive" ways to keep what he saw as growing social ills making their way into classrooms, including critical race theory, an academic legal framework relating to institutional racism taught at some colleges and universities.

"We don't want racism in schools to be the center focus of everyone's identity and how we should proceed with teaching history," he said.

The Temecula district is one of several Southern California school districts where LGBTQ+ identity and history have become major points of controversy.

The Chino Valley Unified School District is also being sued for a parental notification policy similar to the one passed in the Temecula district. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta took the Chino district to court, and a group of parents, students, individual teachers and the teachers union sued Temecula Valley Unified.

In the Chino Valley case, the judge in a preliminary ruling found the notification requirement to be illegal. The district's school board subsequently approved a revised policy with the hope that it will pass legal muster while having the same effect as the original version.

Meanwhile, a different judge upheld the Temecula parental notification policy. That decision is being appealed.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.