SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom and other top California officials Thursday cautioned school administrators against restricting what students read and learn about marginalized groups — marking their most forceful response to a spate of conservative-led book challenges to date.
Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond warned K-12 leaders in a letter that a litany of state laws and constitutional precedent could stand in their way should they shelve books or cut curriculum based on their inclusion of themes related to race and sexual orientation.
“A local educational agency’s removal of materials” in some cases, the three Democrats wrote, “may constitute unlawful discrimination.”
They also told administrators to prepare for a review from the attorney general if they restrict instructional materials.
The admonition builds on recent actions from California Democrats who have recently acted to shield California’s public schools from a slew of restrictions pushed by Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on what students learn about race and gender.
Newsom’s office earlier this month requested information from DeSantis, the Florida Department of Education and textbook publishers over K-12 social studies books that were revised under pressure from Florida Republicans . Thurmond this week sent a memo to California school leaders warning that content restrictions could run afoul of the First Amendment.
Book bans and restrictions in California have been rare, according to national groups tracking them. One tracker cited in the California leaders’ letter reflects only one book removal in the state — a high school district north of Los Angeles that shelved “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
But this latest move adds pressure from the left to school boards in the state’s conservative pockets, where right-leaning parent groups have been active in challenging content. It also further defines Democrats’ liberal vision for the state’s education system, which has included making ethnic studies classes a high school graduation requirement for the class of 2030 and mandating instruction on sexual health.
“As state leaders elected to represent the values of all Californians, we offer our response in one shared voice: Access to books — including books that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians, and especially those that may challenge us to grapple with uncomfortable truths — is a profound freedom we all must protect and cultivate,” the California leaders wrote