Pastor Tim Thompson of the evangelical 412 Church in Temecula, California, believes that the public schools in that part of southwestern Riverside County are “the devil’s playground.”

As someone who attended parochial school and then studied to be a priest for nine years, I have a passing familiarity with the images of Satan since my earliest years in school. So, when the pastor and his Inland Empire Family PAC successfully got a new school board majority elected to the Temecula Valley Unified School District Board of Education last month, I was eager to find out what might be going on in the fourth-largest district in Riverside County that could be attributed to the legendary Prince of Darkness.

This school district, like so many in our state, is an increasingly diverse, suburban district with 28,000 students, 60% of whom are now students of color.

The new leadership majority on the five-person school board was sworn in the evening of Dec. 13, and I arrived early to get a seat in the large crowd at the spacious and well-appointed Temecula Valley High School theater.

As is my custom as a veteran superintendent, I noted the presence of a security contingent that included both school district personnel and about eight to 10 Riverside County deputy sheriffs. I found an empty seat next to a smiling but apprehensive-looking suburban mom, who told me that she was there at the direction of her high school daughter, who had told her: “Mom, you adult voters messed up on Nov. 8, so you need to go to this meeting to find out how bad you really messed things up for us.”

Before the formal open session, students from throughout the district were recognized for their various accomplishments, including their work as elementary student council ambassadors. They looked positively cherubic as they proudly took to the stage to accept their certificates and shake hands or fist-bump with the superintendent and the board members. So far, nothing demonic at all about what I observed and no evidence of evildoing.

In addition to those remarkable young students, I was impressed with the superintendent, Jodi McClay, who made every effort to welcome and support this newly divided school board that she has inherited following a slanderous campaign of lies and distortions by someone who should know better — the same Pastor Tim Thompson, and his Inland Empire Family PAC.

After the ceremonial swearing-in of the newly elected board members, attention turned to substantive matters on the agenda. First up was the election of board leadership positions for both president and clerk. To no one’s surprise, the new evangelical majority elected two of their own to those positions on routine 3-2 votes.

The deep, tragic and visible polarization in this community was best reflected during the “public comment” agenda item, where vigorous cheering and booing took place based on which side one was on in this debate.

Speakers in favor of the new majority said things like: “The voters have put parents back in the driver’s seat, and these new board members will be advocates and guardians for the truth.”

Speakers against the new board members said things like: “I’m a hard-working teacher, not a groomer,” and a high school student who said: “We go to public school, not a Christian school. We aren’t here to see the world through the clouded lenses of Christian white supremacy. We want the truth.”

Even Pastor Thompson of the 412 Church, the man behind it all, showed up to welcome the new board majority and to remind everyone that “these new board members have the best of intentions for this community.”

This was a prelude to the main agenda items of the evening — two resolutions proposed by the new board president, Joseph Komrosky — one condemning racism in the district and the other banning the teaching of critical race theory, which examines the role of institutions in racism throughout history and is most often taught at the college level.

Again, speakers on either side of the issues performed amid boos, cheers and sign-waving. Komrosky made the remarkable and stunning false claim that his CRT resolution was borrowed completely from the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District in San Luis Obispo County where, according to him, “everything is fine after months of implementation.” In fact, an appointed conservative Christian school board member in Paso Robles was removed that same week, on Dec. 14, following a successful signature-gathering petition campaign. In the end, both of his resolutions passed on 3-2 votes with the new evangelical majority prevailing both times.

Much like the elementary students earlier in the meeting, the high school students won me over with their passionate, articulate and well-reasoned arguments for teaching the full, unvarnished history of race in America. It’s clear to me that they have been exposed to some outstanding teachers who have served them well. They instantly put me in mind of the youngsters I first encountered at both Dominguez in Compton and Long Beach Poly high schools more than fifty years ago as a young high school counselor with a big Afro.

Adults like those who make up the new school board majority in Temecula always underestimate the enduring power of the positive teacher/student relationship, and believe that they can issue edicts from on high that will be followed and adhered to because the voters have now put the “right kind of adults in charge.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I suspect the new evangelical board majority has a plan for how they’re going to implement their new resolutions in a divided and rancorous school community, but in the words of that great heavyweight champion and philosopher, Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”

As a seasoned observer, I was not surprised to see that hundreds of high school students started peacefully protesting by walking out of class the morning following this vote of the board majority, and that it continued with more walkouts on Friday morning.

Stay tuned!

•••

Carl A. Cohn is professor emeritus and senior research fellow at Claremont Graduate University. He previously served as the superintendent of Long Beach and San Diego Unified school districts. His research on the new and emerging politics of education in America is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (41)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. susan stann 1 week ago1 week ago

    I love what Carl Cohn said in this article !!!

  2. Rob J 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    These far right christian nationalists are following a GOP game plan to destroy public schools and have them become privatized, for profit businesses. The plan will fail miserably, as will the plan to get rid on the teachers union, but along the way, a massive amount of time and money will be wasted. The larger sensible people of the community along with teachers and students need to stand against the misinformation and extreme political agenda.

  3. Jason 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The new board president won with only 5,700 votes, not even 5% of the population voted for this man who could barely muddle his way through the board meeting, who (as we all saw live) has no understanding of what the board does, how it operates, or what its policies actually are. When anyone here claims that these charlatans “represent the people,” do not forget that they only represent a small fraction of the population … Read More

    The new board president won with only 5,700 votes, not even 5% of the population voted for this man who could barely muddle his way through the board meeting, who (as we all saw live) has no understanding of what the board does, how it operates, or what its policies actually are. When anyone here claims that these charlatans “represent the people,” do not forget that they only represent a small fraction of the population and may be out just as quick when parents take note of the damage being done to TVUSD.

  4. Tobin 1 month ago1 month ago

    As a TVHS alumni, I experienced firsthand the far-left indoctrination in our public schools from 8th grade all the way until my graduation. These teachers were pushing their idealogies on us in every type of way. Absolute joke that school has become, it’s a breeding ground of communists and progressives. If not white supremacy, then black supremacy. That doesn’t sound like the equality MLK Jr. dreamed of.

  5. Peter 1 month ago1 month ago

    Progressivism should and shall die a miserable death.

  6. Kristy 1 month ago1 month ago

    This new school board is exactly what the students and parents of Temecula needed. Finally a board that listens and values the opinions, beliefs and values of these families.

  7. Brenda Lebsack - Teacher 1 month ago1 month ago

    This black mom gave a great school board speech to address the issue of CRT in Ethnic Studies. Her insights and knowledge should be noted. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUskVLEIyPw

  8. Lorraine Lemon 1 month ago1 month ago

    Putting all religious comments aside, why are we still mentioning that a certain percentage of students are “of color”?? Satan is everywhere if we let him in. Focusing on God and following Christ’s teachings will keep Satan away. Students are or, should I say, should be equal.

  9. Ray 1 month ago1 month ago

    Irreligiousness is the fastest growing "religion" in America because the messages of fear and hate towards anyone different fall upon deaf ears in today's youth; the intolerance of the ignorant will no longer be tolerated. The new board president won with only 5,700 votes, not even 5% of the population voted for this man who could barely muddle his way through the board meeting, who (as we all saw live) has no understanding of what … Read More

    Irreligiousness is the fastest growing “religion” in America because the messages of fear and hate towards anyone different fall upon deaf ears in today’s youth; the intolerance of the ignorant will no longer be tolerated.

    The new board president won with only 5,700 votes, not even 5% of the population voted for this man who could barely muddle his way through the board meeting, who (as we all saw live) has no understanding of what the board does, how it operates, or what its policies actually are. When anyone here claims that these charlatans “represent the people” do not forget that they only represent a small fraction of the population and may be out just as quick when parents take note of the damage being done to TVUSD.

  10. Shawn 1 month ago1 month ago

    Our school board went from great to politically divisive overnight.These 3 puppets of the evangelical 3 percenter pastor, didn’t even understand how the school board functions. They had never attended a meeting. They did win a majority of votes. This is true. You get what your people vote for. While actual CRT was not being taught, hundreds of students learned about it because of these measures. Hundreds more still will learn about it, and … Read More

    Our school board went from great to politically divisive overnight.These 3 puppets of the evangelical 3 percenter pastor, didn’t even understand how the school board functions. They had never attended a meeting. They did win a majority of votes. This is true. You get what your people vote for.

    While actual CRT was not being taught, hundreds of students learned about it because of these measures. Hundreds more still will learn about it, and they will turn to their teachers to help them understand it. Teachers won’t be able to point out the good and the bad of the theory without the possibility of losing their jobs. What theory, not law, do we ban next? Do we not teach the theory of communism, socialism, and democracy in a government/civics course? Do we not teach genetics because it offends creationists?

    It is sad that the 3 new board members are so easily duped. They listen to a vocal minority that literally proselytizes on street corners over the hundreds of students and parents that were there. As far as the pendulum swings one way it swings the other, so it’s just a matter of time before these 3 are removed from office and common sense, non-sound bite, non-political members replace them. You know? The ones who vote to schedule AC repair, and approve pay raises for substitutes and mileage for conferences where educators actually learn how to create an inclusive and equitable learning environment.

  11. Sharon Moats 1 month ago1 month ago

    Keep your religious views out of schools. Preach at home or church

  12. Gail Monohon 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you, Carl, for letting your voice be heard.

  13. Mendoza 1 month ago1 month ago

    As a first generation Hispanic-American woman, I am very happy to see that CRT will not be pushed and taught in this district. If that were to change I will immediately remove my kids from public school.

  14. Alex 1 month ago1 month ago

    CRT is a theory and should only be taught at a collegiate level. It’s no secret there’s racism in our history. Just look at the democrat party history ie Jim Crow. The whole world practiced slavery/racism, but the Founding principles were founded on the opposite. It was a goal to achieve. K-12 has no place for debunked “America is white supremacy” theories. Black people owned slaves in the 1800s. Fact. Look it up.

  15. Serena 1 month ago1 month ago

    Looking forward to removing the remaining two incumbents. Temecula has always had a great school system long before these activist teachers and board members came to town. The minority of students that showed up to speak and later walk of campus were encouraged to do so by these same activist teachers. We don’t need to be teaching theory’s….get back to basics.

  16. Sarah 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is definitely a hit piece against the Temecula community!

  17. Robin Schultz 1 month ago1 month ago

    In part, school is a liberal indoctrination camp.

  18. Brenda Lebsack - Teacher 1 month ago1 month ago

    What Mr. Cohn fails to realize is what many Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, Black ministers, Asian clergy, Latino leaders, and Catholic lawyers see clearly. CRT is a Trojan Horse for radical gender ideology. In fact, diverse voices in California came together to create this 11 minute video about it. I hope Mr Cohn and others will take time to be informed.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1kMwj4hTmc
    Rabbi Fischer penned an Edsource commentary about this ideology prevalent in CRT.
    https://edsource.org/2022/controversial-gender-ideology-in-public-education-undermines-families-of-faith/671790

    Replies

    • Dan Plonsey 1 month ago1 month ago

      The vast majority of parents, teachers, and children recognize and support non-binary kids. How can a teacher open her mouth to advocate for these hateful beliefs, knowing that there are non-binary kids in her classroom? I urge readers to watch as much as you can stomach of the first video Ms. Lebsack has posted, and imagine a school district in which these bigoted beliefs are being enforced.

  19. Smalley, Judith 1 month ago1 month ago

    I have a doctorate in education and worked in the public schools for 25 years as a school psychologist, counselor and administrator. It is my opinion that we should not begin to teach "theories" at the K-12 level. There will be "no end" to teaching theories once this starts. It is much too easy to indoctrinated young children. At this level we need to stick to "teaching facts." My parents were … Read More

    I have a doctorate in education and worked in the public schools for 25 years as a school psychologist, counselor and administrator. It is my opinion that we should not begin to teach “theories” at the K-12 level. There will be “no end” to teaching theories once this starts. It is much too easy to indoctrinated young children. At this level we need to stick to “teaching facts.”

    My parents were Danish immigrants. They struggled terribly when they immigrated to this country. They raised ten children and by today’s standards we were very poor. We had no “indoor plumbing.” My mother only had a 5th grade education in Denmark because she was sent to work as a mother’s helper at age 10. When she first came to this country she worked as an “upstairs maid” for a wealthy family. For this work she received “room and board.” When anyone wants to tell me their “poor boy/girl story,” I tell them to go ahead but comment from the onset that my “poor girls story” is probably going to be much worse.

    Replies

    • Ray 1 month ago1 month ago

      No theories eh? I guess that means we can’t teach about gravity or relativity anymore! A whole bunch of mathematics is right out as well!

      Anyone latching onto the word “theory” as meaning “unproven” obviously failed middle school science and should be ignored for their ignorance.

  20. Thomas Hand 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is fantastic. Neither CRT nor its principles should be taught in our public schools. CRT is does not merely "examine[s] the role of institutions in racism throughout history and is most often taught at the college level." Critical Race Theory is the belief that racism is the organizing principle of society. This premise of CRT is false and is designed to divide people and stir up racial division. Second point. So, these new … Read More

    This is fantastic. Neither CRT nor its principles should be taught in our public schools. CRT is does not merely “examine[s] the role of institutions in racism throughout history and is most often taught at the college level.” Critical Race Theory is the belief that racism is the organizing principle of society. This premise of CRT is false and is designed to divide people and stir up racial division.

    Second point. So, these new school board members are “Christian Nationalists” and “White Supremacists.” Oh dear. Why not accuse them of being Nazis or cannibals? It is just the radical professional protesters showing up. These new board members promised to get back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and not to waste money on the latest educational fads. And Dr. Cohn wants us to know that 60% of the district’s students are “students of color.” Yes, he had to bring that up, because race is everything and we must all be classified by race.

    I am not an evangelical. I personally don’t like them very much. New member Danny Gonzalez says on his website, “As a proud Hispanic man, I reject the philosophy that we live in a systemically racist country. Prioritizing educational needs based on race, gender, or anything other than the individual need of each student only divides us as a community. ” I guess Mr. Cohn does not like that. New member Jen Weirsma commented after the meeting that “I believe it’s important for our community to celebrate our diversity and study real history while proactively avoiding divisive ideology that focuses on an individual’s skin color rather than the content of one’s character. Creating labels and categories of victims and exploiters should not define any of our students as they pursue an excellent, well-rounded education.” I guess Mr. Cohn does not like that either.

    As a long-time committed parent of children in the public schools, I am happy for the people of Temecula.

    Replies

    • Brent 1 month ago1 month ago

      Well said.

  21. Peter 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for exposing your thoughts against the community who elected the new board members. CRT is un-American and belongs in the garbage bin, much like your hit piece here.

  22. Moni 1 month ago1 month ago

    These statements are far from the truth. As a person who knocked on many, many doors and talked to countless people, I can tell you that the ban on CRT is what parents and community members want. Besides, it has been said over, and over that CTR is not being taught in TVUSD. If that was the case, why are there people so upset about the ban?

  23. Phyllis Greer 1 month ago1 month ago

    Mr. Cohn describes Pastor Tim Thompson as running a "slanderous campaign of lies and distortion". You made that bold accusation without any supporting evidence. You actually modeled slandering a person. This community includes many Christians with faith in God. The new school board members won. They won because they represent lots families that have experienced sending their children to public schools that should be emphasizing and teaching reading, writing and math skills … Read More

    Mr. Cohn describes Pastor Tim Thompson as running a “slanderous campaign of lies and distortion”. You made that bold accusation without any supporting evidence. You actually modeled slandering a person. This community includes many Christians with faith in God.

    The new school board members won. They won because they represent lots families that have experienced sending their children to public schools that should be emphasizing and teaching reading, writing and math skills but instead are emphasizing social agendas that conflict with family values.

    In public school, get back to teaching only the skills they need and give grades that tell the truth about mastery of those skills. We have too many students far behind proficiency levels. Focus on bringing the students up in their skills and drop the social agendas plaguing public schools.

    Replies

    • Carl A Cohn 1 month ago1 month ago

      If you click on the link under “a slanderous campaign of lies and distortions,” it takes you to a newspaper article where all of the lies and distortions are spelled out in great detail. I stand by my description of the pastor’s actions.

      • Jim McMullen 1 month ago1 month ago

        You link to an article that you say describes a “slanderous” campaign, but the article was written prior to the campaign you are implying was so slanderous. Rather than build an argument based on very specific statements made by these candidates during the months prior to Election Day, you use rhetorical tricks to impugn the candidates’ integrity. You’re a sophist. And it exposes you for the partisan you are. Why not acknowledge that many … Read More

        You link to an article that you say describes a “slanderous” campaign, but the article was written prior to the campaign you are implying was so slanderous. Rather than build an argument based on very specific statements made by these candidates during the months prior to Election Day, you use rhetorical tricks to impugn the candidates’ integrity. You’re a sophist. And it exposes you for the partisan you are. Why not acknowledge that many have a very different view of how schools should approach education? It might help you see people instead of caricatures.

  24. Joey 1 month ago1 month ago

    The amount of lies and deceptive content that gets expressed by existing pro-board folks is not surprising. Nobody wants to lose power. Events like drag queen hour, pro-abortion rallies and other radical atheistic belief systems are not the majority in Temecula. The separation of church and state is an excuse based talking point used to alienate the majority. But those in power want you to believe they are the majority. The same old racialized representative … Read More

    The amount of lies and deceptive content that gets expressed by existing pro-board folks is not surprising. Nobody wants to lose power. Events like drag queen hour, pro-abortion rallies and other radical atheistic belief systems are not the majority in Temecula. The separation of church and state is an excuse based talking point used to alienate the majority. But those in power want you to believe they are the majority. The same old racialized representative needs hoopla just doesn’t cut it anymore and I would expect boards to continue to take back power from radical left wing racist policy makers.

  25. Gillian 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for this well-written and educated article. I have shared it and I know FB groups are sharing it as well. Thank you for taking the time and helping us not go back into the past that was filled with so many problems. So sad we are facing so called “Christians” with an agenda that is filled with bigotry and hate causing such division in our town.

  26. Rachel 1 month ago1 month ago

    So well written. Thank you

  27. Michelle 1 month ago1 month ago

    It’s a sad day when any religious institution takes over a public institution. The separation of religion and state wasn’t implemented to protect religion. It was implemented to protect the state. I was raised in Christian schools and had to learn history as an adult. You can’t teach children partial truths and expect them to not realize the lies that were fed to them. It breeds bitterness.

    Replies

    • Allan 1 month ago1 month ago

      Separation of Church and State was to protect the government from interfering with the Church. They have no authority over the Church. Learn some history.

  28. William Wong 1 month ago1 month ago

    It is a shame organizationally when everyone's focus becomes the school board. Yes, the board was elected and they had certain views and policies that they'd like to implement. That's how it works. But now everyone's focus will be on the 3-2 split. It sucks energy, resources, and life from the folks in the arena doing the tough work - the educators who show up every day and do their best to … Read More

    It is a shame organizationally when everyone’s focus becomes the school board. Yes, the board was elected and they had certain views and policies that they’d like to implement. That’s how it works. But now everyone’s focus will be on the 3-2 split. It sucks energy, resources, and life from the folks in the arena doing the tough work – the educators who show up every day and do their best to support students from all viewpoints. Once these main controversies move on, I would suspect the new trustees will hopefully better understand the complexities behind running schools – the close session discussions, the litigation, the risks, the challenges, and the opportunities and joys of serving children and communities.

  29. Brian 1 month ago1 month ago

    This new school board does not listen to the students, teachers or parents! They are on a political agenda being lead by a Christian Nationalist who only wants to force his ideas on the community. TVUSD Schools have been top-ranked for so long because of those who came before these corrupt new members forcing their agenda. It is now only a matter of time before the schools fall in ratings due to these ignorant policies.

  30. Eleanor 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you, Professor Cohn for this important piece. It is sad that we live in a country that wants to deny the suffering of others that are not like them. I am glad that people like you are fighting back.

  31. Tom Adams 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you, Carl Cohn, for attending the meeting and sharing your keen observations. Education will only progress when we recognize that students should be active participants instead of passive recipients.

    Replies

    • Ryan 1 month ago1 month ago

      What sane human believes children should decide what is taught? Children don’t get to decide…

      • Antoinette Simmons 1 month ago1 month ago

        High School young adults are very well informed and although they are not in charge, they recognize when radical groups...be it Christian or whatever want to have a subject taught or discussed but just not in its entirety. CRT is an opportunity to be open and honest about how we view differences, be it color, faith belief, traditions or language and although CRT "theory" is not sanctioned or taught by TVUSD our teachers are intelligent … Read More

        High School young adults are very well informed and although they are not in charge, they recognize when radical groups…be it Christian or whatever want to have a subject taught or discussed but just not in its entirety.

        CRT is an opportunity to be open and honest about how we view differences, be it color, faith belief, traditions or language and although CRT “theory” is not sanctioned or taught by TVUSD our teachers are intelligent educators who may want to use portions of CRT as part of their curriculum. Again, it opens a dialogue and in case you’ve forgotten…cthe young people of today are our future and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the habits, mistakes.

        Whatever you want to call it of our current and past start to fade away from everyday life and are replaced with universal kindness and acceptance of everyone. Maybe to you it seems like a pipe dream but if we start censoring history and censoring educators and students we will remain stuck and no one will transcend. I am a parent of 2 teenagers. All they want is the truth … the unvarnished truth and the ability to think for themselves. My son graduated from a TVUSD school 2 years ago and my daughter is a junior.

        • Ron 1 month ago1 month ago

          Radical groups huh? Like the Marxist CRT SEL LBGTQ radical groups that is shoved down the majority’s throat?

      • Shawn 1 month ago1 month ago

        There’s actually a whole lot of research and theory written about student-guided learning and how great that is, but I know you are anti-theory.