(LOS ANGELES)—  PEN America today responded to the decision by the school board in Temecula, CA to fire its schools’ superintendent. The firing came a month after the school board voted to remove a textbook about LGBTQ+ rights, citing the textbook as “morally objectionable.” PEN America called on the board to immediately reverse the superintendent’s removal, calling the firing “misguided and chilling” and raising serious questions about free expression and due process in the district.

News accounts about the decision to remove Dr. Jody McClay as superintendent did not cite a reason behind her firing, which occurred in closed session on Tuesday. The firing came a month after the board removed an elementary-level social studies textbook that referenced the gay rights movement and related history. The board cited the textbook as “morally objectionable.”

Curriculum materials included the history of Harvey Milk, a county supervisor from San Francisco who was the first gay politician to be elected to office in California and who was assassinated in 1978 by a fellow politician.

In debating the textbook, Social Studies Alive! (Bert Bower, Jim Lobdell) the Temecula Valley Unified School District board president Joseph Komrosky questioned the inclusion of Milk, calling him a “pedophile.” Although Milk is not mentioned in the textbook, he was included in some supplemental materials available for upper grades.

In response, Allison Lee, director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office, made the following comments:

“By firing Dr. McClay, the Temecula board has sent a chilling message to the ranks of teachers in the district that any classroom discussion of subjects it finds ‘objectionable’ on any grounds can be cause for dismissal. This misguided decision, which will send a chill throughout the ranks of educators, primarily will harm students, all of whom deserve to learn history in all of its fullness, not merely  as a narrow slice of what a school board deems acceptable. School boards are tasked with recognizing that public schools house diverse populations. This means they must work out disagreements over curriculum through dialogue and allowing a range of voices to be heard, not heavy-handed reprimands or, worse, suspect terminations. This decision raises serious questions about the Temecula board’s commitment to a bedrock principle of education— the right to learn— and free expression and due process by educators. It also leaves teachers and students without a textbook in the fall, further depriving them of this basic right to learn.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057