Educators in Temecula describe impact of ongoing political conflicts

Some say they're being falsely accused of indoctrination and sexualization.

Anabel Munoz Image
Sunday, September 17, 2023
Temecula educators describe impact of ongoing political conflicts
The community of roughly 100,000 residents in Riverside County has weathered many political conflicts following a November school board election.

TEMECULA, Calif. (KABC) -- Edgar Díaz, Donna Kronenfeld, and Annalisa Bujas are longtime educators and together, they have nearly 70 years of experience.

The Temecula educators explained the last year has been different from the rest.

"It's only been this year that we've had such tumultuous relationships between our board and our teachers and our families," said Bujas, a 4th and 5th grade teacher.

The community of roughly 100,000 residents in Riverside County has weathered many political conflicts following a November school board election. Three candidates that campaigned as Christian conservatives won and now wield power over the board as the majority.

"I'm shocked that relationships have been destroyed in a matter of six or seven months, and that we're being villainized for things that aren't happening in the classroom. They're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist," said Bujas.

READ ALSO | Public high school principals detail impact of political conflicts on students and educators

Public schools are a space to learn and discuss ideas but lately, they've become a battleground where political conflicts have intensified.

Matters of race, gender, and inclusivity are the subjects of intensifying conflicts.

One month after the election, the board majority banned Critical Race Theory, which examines the relationship between race, racism, and the law.

In May, it rejected and later approved a social studies book over supplementary material on slain civil and gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

"In half a year, you have manufactured discord. You have manufactured it. You've made it up. You've brought it over every other month," Diaz, president of the Temecula Valley Educators Association, told the board during a packed meeting in June.

Diaz asked the board to protect teachers, saying they were becoming targets of intimidation and bullying tactics through voicemails like one he played during the meeting.

"You're disgusting," the unknown caller is heard saying. "Who are you to teach kids anything related to anything that has to do with sexual ... anything with gayness or anything like that. That's not your right. You didn't have those kids. You're just a teacher, and you teach what the state tells you to. That doesn't mean that you're right."

Educators said they are being falsely accused of indoctrination and sexualization. The terms echo messaging by conservative groups and politicians across the country.

From former President Donald Trump to the Political Action Committee, which backed the now conservative majority of this school board.

On its website, the Inland Empire Family PAC says it "works to stop the indoctrination of our children by placing candidates on school boards who will fight for Christian and conservative values."

"If we're going to save America, and I know there's a lot of patriots in this room, it starts with school board. So I'm in," said Jennifer Wiersma, then-candidate and now board clerk at one of the PAC's campaign events.

"I believe in God. I stand for the virtues of character," said Joseph Komrosky, then-candidate and now board president. "You don't have good character, you don't have virtue. If you do, you have courage to stand up and to fight for your kids. Don't be a coward. These board members are cowards," he added.

"Fifteen days after the death of George Floyd, they signed a resolution in Temecula Valley, reaffirming their commitment to promote equity," said Danny Gonzalez, then-candidate and now board member. "We know that equity is this fluffy word that they use."

In a statement as a clerk of the school board, Wiersma said in part, "I've been committed to helping create neutral classrooms without divisive ideology and activism," adding, "The teachers' unions have consistently run a false narrative in the community regarding my priorities as a trustee."

Kronenfeld, a 5th grade teacher, said she wants all students in her classroom to know they belong and stresses the importance of teaching history and creating empathy in children.

"You want children to learn how to think. You don't want to teach them what to think, but you want to teach them how to think, how to analyze things for themselves," said Kronenfeld.

The ongoing conflicts have resulted in a recall effort of the three conservative board members and student walkouts over the anti-CRT resolution.

"We're trying to have our voices be heard and for them to realize that they need to listen to the students," said high school student Nalia Fanene.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of students, parents and educators asserting the anti-CRT resolution violates the California constitution, stressing its lack of clarity, among other effects has silenced teachers.

"Now we are focused on watching what we say, what we do. We don't know, based on these very general policies, what is deemed is not appropriate in the classroom," said Diaz.

Bujas admits it's uncomfortable to speak out.

"But I'm willing to do it because I believe in it. I believe that our families need teachers to be brave. We need to speak up and we need to do what's best for students, ultimately," she said. "I would like for everyone to remember that children are watching us and they're watching how we respond to people who think differently than us."