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Temecula school board recall intensifies

 December 13, 2023 at 12:15 PM PST

S1: Welcome in San Diego. It's Jade Hindman. Today. We're talking about school board recall efforts in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. The nineteenths major Nidal joins us for that. And Doctor Rodney Hood discusses how racism impacts the health of black women. This is Midday Edition connecting our communities through conversation. Schools have become battlegrounds for culture wars and academic censorship around the country. And it's happening in Temecula , where one community is grappling with their school boards. Turn to the far right in November 2022. Three conservative school board members took office at the Temecula Valley Unified School District. They essentially ban the teaching of black history in classrooms the same day they were sworn in. Their controversial policies have caused outcry among parents , teachers and students , and drawn national scrutiny even from Governor Gavin Newsom. Just last week , activists gathered enough signatures for a recall race against board president Joseph Komorowski that set to take place sometime next year. Joining me now to talk more about the recall race is Nadya Nidal. She's an education reporter with the 19th , a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering gender politics and policy. Nadra , welcome.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: So glad you're here. So Temecula Valley Unified has been at the center of controversy for quite some time now , even before these three school board members were elected. Board President Joseph Komorowski actually made an offensive statement back in June that drew criticism from Newsom. Can you tell us more about that ? Yes.

S2: So in June , the school board had rejected a social studies curriculum for mentioning the first gay public official in California , Harvey Milk. And so during that meeting , he referred to Harvey Milk as a pedophile , which drew a response from Governor Gavin Newsom on formerly Twitter hmhm.

S1: And so then this was just the tip of the iceberg.

S2: Also during some of those meetings , black parents were ejected. So that was the first major controversy. Then you had , as we just mentioned , you know , the school board president referring to Harvey Milk , who is a gay icon , as a pedophile. The the school district was going to reject a social studies curriculum simply for mentioning him milk in the supplemental materials. And it took threats from the governor and Attorney general , Rob Bonta , to basically get them not to reject this social studies book , which had also already been piloted. And and teachers had liked it and had not gotten any complaints from parents about it. So they ended up under the threat of fines and the governor possibly sending those textbooks to the schools anyway , they reverse track on on banning that social studies curriculum. They've also passed policies just against flags. So only having the American and the California flag be able to be displayed on school campuses. And the theory behind that is supposedly , you know , to stop people from displaying pride flags during pride month , which is something else. Some of the conservatives , you know , in the district had had taken issue with. So that that was another issue that upset people. And they also fired the superintendent , who was a popular superintendent , and they fired her without cause.

S1: I want to dig into what's behind this a bit more , and I'll start with critical race theory. You mentioned that term , but it's a framework that's not actually taught in K-12 schools , but in law schools. So what does that term cover for really ? And what's really meant when we hear the term CRT as it pertains to K through 12 classrooms.

S2: So I interviewed a black teacher in , in the Temecula Valley Unified School District who's been teaching in that district for over two decades. And , you know , she she was very upset about the CRT ban. And she said that she has been accused of practicing CRT simply for discussing the fact that her parents were sharecroppers in the segregated South. So someone like her , her name's Diane Cox. Um , views and attack on CRT is simply an attack of really just saying we don't want our educators to discuss race or racism or the legacy of racism. And anyone who mentions that in any kind of way is practicing CRT. And so she and other people in the district just view it as. Quote unquote , whitewashing of history. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S2: Um , from groups across the country who are basically using the same playbook. And so that playbook is to target black people , queer people , and other marginalized groups. Um , you know , I interviewed the head of , uh , of a political action committee , uh , the one Temecula Valley PAC who is leading the recall effort against these school board members. And , you know , he said he had a conversation with one of them. And at the time , that school board member had not been in a classroom , had not really talked to teachers , and really didn't understand what CRT is. So it's not necessarily that , you know , these school board members really do have an understanding of these concepts , but they have labeled them as bad. And so they're targeting them because they're being targeted across the country.

S1: Right ? Labeled and mislabeled. It sounds like. Yes.

S3: Yes.

S1: I mean , you mentioned the million dollar fine Newsom nearly imposed on the district over the social studies curriculum.

S2: So one policy that I haven't mentioned was this gender disclosure policy. So if a student , um , is trans and wants to use pronouns that they were not assigned at birth , under that policy , educators would have to inform the students parents. So essentially outing trans students and other students who may identify as as non-binary or in some other , you know , way that does not conform with what they were assigned at birth. So there's a lawsuit right now , um , against the district because of that. And that's another reason that , you know , many community community members are upset because these lawsuits are costly. It's it requires using district resources to defend some of these controversial policies.

S1: And the district's turn to the far right can actually be traced to the beginning of the pandemic. Right.

S2: So , yes , the person there , there is an evangelical pastor in the area who helped to get these three school board members elected. And he was upset during the pandemic about mask mandates. And he wanted the school board to challenge , um , mask mandates that had been imposed by the state. The school board at the time did not do that. And so he created a PAC that helped get these three conservatives elected. But yes , it all started with , um , you know , concern or complaints about mask mandates. And so really nothing to do with CRT or LGBTQ plus people. Um.

S3: Um.

S1: And I'm going to just ask your opinion on that or what you found as a reporter. What do you what was behind that movement , the anti masking , um , the anti-vax movement.

S2: From what I have heard and , and written about and , and other stories , there seem to have been a turn. There was a certain point during the pandemic when we heard that marginalized groups , right , communities of color , were most at risk from suffering adverse effects of getting Covid 19. And once that news broke , you started to see a lot of protests against lockdowns , against masks and other precautions. So some people do believe that , you know , race or racism , um , has played a role in the in the anti-mask movement , in particular the vaccine , the anti-vax movement , you know , is broader and and goes back years. Um , but with Covid 19 in particular , that there was a racial element. So once people learn that , oh , it might be black and brown people who are most likely to die of Covid 19 or suffer serious consequences , then we , you know , groups that don't belong to those communities should not have to , you know , wear a mask or social distance or do anything that would inconvenience us.

S1: With all of that. I mean , earlier this month , activist groups successfully gathered enough signatures to put forth a recall race against Komorowski. Where did the idea for the. Recall come from.

S2: So there is a group of black moms in Temecula called in Act. And so they spoke to the head of One Valley , one Temecula Valley PAC. Um , when these school boards got elected and when they started to pass these controversial policies and said , we need to try to recall them. And so Jeff Pack , who's the co-founder of one Temecula Valley PAC , um , you know , got to work on a on a recall effort with the help of these black moms with groups like grandparents for truth. Um , other , you know , concern community members and then later , um , chapters of the NAACP and LULAC , which is , um , you know , a Latino , um , civil rights group. They they supported the effort as well. So it was a really , you know , a broad based effort into Mecca and even the communities , the surrounding communities , um , to get at least one of these school board members recalled.

S1: Um , and you mentioned , in fact , black women have really been critical leaders in this recall campaign. Can you talk more about that and their role in pushing back against censorship and other policies that target marginalized youth ? Yeah.

S2: So for my article , I interviewed , um , two black women. One well , they're both actually parents , but one is the parent of a current student , um , into Temecula school district. Another is a teacher , is a longtime teacher. So they both have been in this community , um , for at least 20 years , a little more than that. And they were concerned about the turn that the school board was taking and the fact that they started to feel marginalized in communities that they have considered home for over two decades. And so they got the ball rolling. Um , in terms of. You know , backing a recall effort against these , um , school board members. But they've also , you know , said that they have suffered as well , that they feel like they faced intimidation and harassment , um , mostly online , but even , um , in person as well. Um , because of their activism. So they've spoken up at school board meetings. And as I mentioned earlier , you know , some of these parents , some black parents were ejected for speaking out at school board meetings for being critical of the school board. Um , so , yeah , that's the effort of some some black moms. And I got to say , some black dads , too , even though my story didn't focus on black dads. But there was a there was viral footage of a black dad getting kicked out of a school board meeting earlier this year.

S1: Um , have these meetings been hostile ? Yeah.

S2: And I personally have not been to one of the meetings , but I've seen the footage. I've talked to people who have. And yes , many people say that they have been very hostile , very contentious , that there have been efforts to block people from speaking , including students who , you know , one meeting to ban CRT. Um , they waited until midnight to get their chance to speak , uh , to the school board , um , and tell them why a CRT ban was wrong and they had to demand their turn to speak , because apparently the school board president , uh , was not going to allow them to , at least according to my sources. And so , yeah , they they have been contentious and there have been protests , you know , during and , and after some of these meetings because of that.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman , speaking with Nadra Middle , the education reporter at the 19th , about the ongoing recall efforts at Temecula Valley Unified. Not sure what's at stake here.

S2: According to , you know , the PAC that I interviewed , they have they did get enough signatures by the deadline , which was December 8th , to recall the president. And there's going to be an election next year. And if the school board president is recalled , that would tip the school board back in a more liberal direction because there are five school board members , three of them were conservatives. But if one of them is replaced by a liberal or progressive candidate , that means likely the end of some of these very controversial policies we've seen over the past year. And let me.

S1: Ask you this.

S2: I think what educators are saying they have a problem with , though there are some conservative educators as well. Um , but what many educators are saying is a , um , some of these conservative school board members and conservative parental rights groups are ignoring the fact that they went to school. Many of them have master's degrees , and they have the content knowledge necessary to give students a proper education. And that's being questioned by people who don't have those same credentials. And many teachers will tell you they are not trying to indoctrinate children in any way. They are trying to teach children the nation's history. They're trying to have dialogues about current events , and students need to be able to exchange ideas in classrooms , a wide range of ideas. And so when you have policies that are limiting what can be taught , you prevent educators from doing their job and you prevent students from getting a well-rounded education.

S1: And we've been talking about the adults leading these recall efforts. But how are students feeling and what's their involvement been like ? It sounds like they're having a hard time even having their voices heard.

S2: Yeah , at least from what I've heard about one school board meeting that that was definitely true. Um , that there were efforts to prevent , you know , students and other community members from from addressing the school board. But school students , you know , they have protested. Um , they've led more than one protest. Both black students , um , LGBTQ plus students and their supporters have really led efforts and walkouts to say that they do not condone the policies , um , of this school district or of the school board. So students , their parents , their families , grandparents , this has been a family affair in terms of , um , activism against this school board.

S1: And all the people you interviewed are longtime residents of Temecula who are connected and are concerned about the direction this board is taking. One grandmother you spoke to , Holly Hall , said she feels like this might divide the community. Can you talk more about that ? I mean , how is this affecting the community at large ? Yeah.

S2: I mean , Holly Hall was very concerned when the school board tried to reject on the social studies curriculum. She's a retired educator herself , and she said that her family is made up of people of , you know , different ethnic backgrounds , religions , sexual orientations , gender identities. And so she was really concerned at some of these policies because she felt like the school board was sending a message that implied that certain community members should be treated as second class citizens. So that really got her , um , involved and motivated to start participating in activism , to start fighting against this school district. Um , whether that meant helping to get signatures , um , for recall , um , having donating money to the cause , having lawn signs about the recall on her lawn , whatever she could do , um , she she has tried to do. And she said it's been difficult because , I mean , Temecula is a very conservative community. There's a Republican plurality in terms of the registered voters there. Um.

S3: Um.


S2: Um , that this is a these past few years have have been a time of tremendous censorship and rollback of of whether it's ethnic studies , whether it is LGBTQ plus inclusion in schools that we have we have been in a period that many people believe constitutes a regression , um , in terms of inclusion , in terms of diversity and equity in public schools. And so there are people who are very concerned about climate in schools across the country over these past couple of years. But at the same time , there have been efforts like we've seen in Temecula of people , um , rising up to oppose , um , what some people call authoritarian authoritarianism , a rise in that. And so many people look at that as a positive. The fact that there are people who are willing to mobilize and , and fight against , um , censorship and , and book banning and bans on CRT.


S2: In terms of who who benefits ? Um , I mean , I guess the status quo of your would be the primary beneficiary , because I think this is a movement that's largely against change. And we have seen schools , especially after the police murder of George Floyd , who started talking about the importance of diversity , equity and inclusion and started focusing on how they could better serve students of color. And not everyone like the focus on , you know , on serving those students or and try trying to recruit more diverse faculty members. There are people who did not like that , who wanted to return to , you know , an older status quo. And so by having curriculum oversight bills , censorship bills , um , parental rights bills , I think that's who who benefits the people who did not want to see the changes that occurred even before George Floyd's murder. But definitely , you know , that we saw more of at following his murder.

S1: I've been speaking with Nadra Nettle , the education reporter for the 19th Nadra. Thank you so much for joining us.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: What do you think about the banning of race and gender studies in the Temecula Valley Unified School District ? Give us a call (619) 452-0228. Leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , Doctor Rodney Hood joins us to talk about a new study revealing the impact of racism on black women's health.

S4: It's believed that chronically , these hormones and stresses lead to things that develop into hypertension and then diabetes. And obesity , etcetera.

S1: More on that when Kpbs Midday Edition returns. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition , I'm Jade Hindman. There are many factors that put black women at a greater risk for illnesses like diabetes , breast cancer , heart disease , and stroke. Racism is one of those factors. A recent study out of Boston University found racism , in particular , increases the risk of stroke in black women , who perceive it by 38%. The study was published by the university's Black Women's Health Study. It's part of a greater effort to show how social and environmental conditions can also impact the health of black women. Doctor Rodney Hood is a physician of internal medicine here in San Diego. He's also president and chairman of the Multicultural Health Foundation , and this is an area he spent many years researching. Doctor hood , it's always great to have you on Midday Edition.

S4: Thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here.


S4: But how do you measure racism ? Well , Doctor David Williams at Harvard developed several tests that actually can measure your interpersonal racism in studies , including this one. And now coming out showing that individuals that have higher levels of perceived racism tend to have higher worst outcomes healthwise.


S4: I've termed the word PTSD post-traumatic slavery disorder. What I mean by that is there's evidence now that the ethno historic traumas that have taken place , going all the way back to slavery have been incorporated modern day through the perception of racism and what we call chronic indolent stress. There's another name for it called allostatic load. It can actually be measured in higher levels of blood pressure , higher levels of stress hormones. And they've begun to do studies in finding out that under stress , these levels go up. And in African Americans , and especially in African American females , they have some of the highest allostatic loads of all ethnicities. So this study goes back to kind of bringing proof to what those measurements are measuring.


S4: And we're talking about the chronic stress of racism , the micro insults , the W.E.B. Du Bois talks about the two souls of black folks , one in which we talk differently amongst ourselves , and then we talk differently and interact differently with the majority of community. All of that is chronic stress , and it can now be measured in higher levels of cortisol , higher levels of epinephrine , higher levels of agency. So these are things that can be measured in the body that go along with chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation is what starts damaging in organs such as the blood vessels in the heart and the kidneys in the eye. So when you have higher levels of that stress that blacks do , that's one of the issues. It's not the only issue where you live is important. Your socioeconomic status is important. But getting back to black women , it's also been an enigma. When it was looked at and found that the maternal death rate amongst black women in the infant mortality death rate amongst black babies is highest amongst black women. And the disparity doesn't go away even with educated and high income black women. And I think going back to this study that begins to help explain it.

S1: Racism is also a major psychological stressor. Can you talk a bit about that ? Yeah.

S4: The perceived stress is really how you perceive how people or situations are interacting with you on an individual basis. So if you really look at this study , one of the interesting things in the study , it looked at over. A 48,000 African American women over a 22 year period. That's a long period of time. And they gave them all this racism perception measure. And about 70% of the African American women answered yes to at least one of the three main questions. About 12% answered yes to all three. And the ones that answered yes to all three. Perceiving racism had about 38% higher risk of strokes than those who answered zero. So it's believed that chronically , these hormones and stresses lead to things that develop into hypertension and then diabetes and obesity , etc..

S1: And I mean , with racism being an aggravating factor in health disparities , can you point to any other factors that contribute to this problem too ? Yeah.

S4: So clearly the ones that we have documented include socioeconomic status include your educational level include geography. Where you live is matter of fact. Your health outcome is probably more determinative as to what zip code you were born and live in than your genetic makeup. Then there's the stress of what I call a lack of social empowerment. Not really being in control of of your job and being able to get hired. But the last hired and the first fired type of syndrome. So at every level , I think black folks feel that there's more things they have to overcome than the general population.

S1: And another layer to this is the racism and discrimination that studies have shown exist within the health care system , which also leads to more negative health outcomes for black people. Can you explain how structural racism in health care works and its impact on black women's health in particular ? Yeah.

S4: So you pointed out very good thing this study is talking about interpersonal racism and how it's perceived. However , there's also the structural racism in many studies have shown that blacks and black women in particular are treated differently within the health care system. So there's something called implicit bias. And that's kind of your subconscious bias that's not really conscious to you. And so if you bought into the negative stereotype of blacks in this country , when you start treating them in the health care system , many times physicians are making different decisions for black patients than they are their white patients. And many times that's on an unconscious basis. There's a study in 1999 published in the New England Journal of Medicine , where they had actors half black , half white , half female. And what they found is that physicians in general made the correct diagnosis , but they made different , less therapeutic , appropriate decisions for black women than for the others. And at that time , they couldn't explain why. Well , we now know that it has to do with implicit bias.


S4: Many times the insurance company didn't even want to pay for it because they didn't have a diagnosis to go along with it. And I do believe that vitamin D may be one of the contributing issues of why blacks have high blood pressure , but I must be honest research in the literature. There's a lot of conflicting data to confirm that , but many of us do believe that , and I think much more study needs to be done in that area. I think the other thing is that we need to incorporate behavioral health relaxation techniques in the treatment of hypertension , not only dietary changes , but specifically , uh , eliminating a significant amounts of salt and increasing your , uh , exercise. People say , well , I have hypertension and I'm African American. Yes. That makes you at increased risk. You can't change being an African American , but you can change your lifestyle.


S4: Let me say this I. I've been researching this for 30 years , and as we come up with other tools to help treat hypertension and strokes , so far whatever we've come up with does not substitute for medication. So it's critical that people who have better controlled blood pressure , people have better control. Diabetes tend to do better. But on top of that , we need to do stress reduction techniques exercising , meditating , reading , quiet time. And I think that that's critical and should be incorporated in recommendations.

S1: I've been speaking with Doctor Rodney Hood , president and chairman of the Multicultural Health Foundation. Doctor hood , thank you so much for joining us.

S4: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

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Students inside a computer lab at a Temecula Valley Unified School District school in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Temecula Valley Unified School District
Students inside a computer lab at a Temecula Valley Unified School District school in an undated photo.

Schools have become battlegrounds for culture wars and academic censorship around the country. And it’s happening in Temecula, where one community is grappling with their school board’s turn to the far right. The 19th's education reporter Nadra Nittle breaks down the school board's controversial policies and efforts to recall the board's conservative members.

Plus, recent research from Boston University's Black Women Health Study reveals that racism may increase the risk of stroke in Black women. Dr. Rodney Hood sat down with Midday Edition to talk about how racism can impact Black women's health.