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Home / Joseph Komrosky

Pair alleges Temecula school board president violating free speech

The president of the Temecula Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, along with the board itself, are facing a federal civil rights lawsuit over his alleged arbitrary use of a “penalty card system” to remove people from board meetings, which the plaintiffs argue is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

TVUSD teacher Julie Geary and Temecula Middle School Parent-Teacher-Student Association President Upneet Dhaliwal filed their suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, represented by the First Amendment Coalition and the ACLU of Southern California.

The suit alleges that TVUSD President Joseph Komrosky has engaged in conduct that has led to the “deprivation of the plaintiffs’ federal and state constitutional and statutory rights,” specifically the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of speech, and the California Brown Act provision for the ability to attend and express thoughts and concerns during public meetings.

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief in the form of a federal cease-and-desist order.

Komrosky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the plaintiffs, after the defendant in June implemented an “expulsion process,” later approved by the entire board, he began using it to “chill the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs” by having them booted from meetings whenever they said or did something that caused him discomfort.

The process has entailed use of a “penalty card system loosely borrowed from soccer matches,” according to the suit. Komrosky explained at the outset of the process that the system was a means to save time. One card is yellow for a warning; the other card is red for “you’re out,” he said.

“A disruption can be a loud outburst, or even something like constant talking in the rear that causes one of the board members and staff here to lose the ability to concentrate and thus govern properly,” Komrosky said. “Also, when people are commenting, no yelling. There’s going to be controversial comments coming from both sides. Be respectful and let people talk … I expect you to follow the rules of proper decorum.”

Those who are red-carded have been expected to self-escort themselves to the exit, but in instances where they don’t immediately leave, security personnel have been summoned to show them the door, according to the suit.

Dhaliwal and Geary have both been ejected from meetings, but the plaintiffs argue the bases for the ejections were flimsy at best.

Julie Geary. | Photo courtesy of Julie Geary/X

Geary was red-carded on July 18 and Aug. 9. The first instance stemmed from her openly questioning Komrosky’s decision to bar two people from further comments after one, Pastor Tim Thompson, said a Temecula Valley board member was “probably a communist” and another, teacher Jennee Scharf, described a board member as a “homophobe.”

When Geary looked at Komrosky from her seat in the audience and asked, “What is this?” she was red-carded, according to the suit. Her Aug. 9 expulsion happened after the educator began speaking among people near her while the board was conducting business, taking issue with the body’s “disruptive conduct regulations.” Komrosky flashed a red card in her direction, even though Geary “was not yelling … and (was) never warned she was being disruptive,” the plaintiffs said.

Dhaliwal was red-carded on Sept. 1 during a special board meeting where she was addressing the board via the public microphone. She objected to a section of an agenda item pertaining to qualifications for prospective superintendent candidates.

“Mr. Komrosky apparently determined that her comments did not address the agenda and interrupted her, telling her, in effect, to ‘stick to the agenda’ before instructing her to yield her time,” court papers state. “When Ms. Dhaliwal continued to speak, Mr. Komrosky ordered a sheriff’s deputy to have her removed from the meeting.”

Geary’s attorneys sent a formal letter to the board in August saying Komrosky and the board had violated the Brown Act and First Amendment, to which TVUSD’s legal counsel responded, vowing the expulsion system would be modified.

Despite the change, the plaintiffs argue “those (amended) regulations suffer from the same constitutional infirmities.”

The Temecula Valley school board has been at the center of controversy since the beginning of the year, first for voting to prohibit critical race theory from classroom instruction. CRT’s supporters say it provides a window to the past that gives minority viewpoints improved standing, while critics argue it is a racially charged curriculum that redefines history without merit.

The board also drew fire over its initial 3-2 decision to reject the state-recommended K-5 social studies book, “Social Studies Alive,” which devotes a section to San Francisco County’s first openly gay Board of Supervisors member, Harvey Milk. Komrosky and others cited the late politician’s conduct with a 16-year-old boy as reasons not to make him a focus of interest. However, the board soon after relented and adopted the textbook.

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