South Dakota Social Studies Revision Meeting Draws Nearly 900 Public Comments

The changes involved a 15-member committee and were influenced by a conservative college, according to the Associated Press

Educators at Harrisburg Freedom Elementary School hold signs opposing the revised social studies standards from the South Dakota Board of Education Standards at a walk-in on Nov. 16. (Courtesy of Harrisburg Freedom Elementary)

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The South Dakota Board of Education Standards will hold its second meeting since revealing the revised social studies standards that drew controversy again this summer.

A day before the official deadline to register or submit public comments, the Board had received nearly 900 comments from teachers, school board members, parents, school administrators and more. The Belle Fourche School Board approved a resolution Monday opposing the proposed social studies standards as well.

The standards originally drew criticism in 2021 after the state removed more than a dozen references for the Oceti Sakowin in the first draft. Gov. Kristi Noem ordered the standards revision process to restart in 2022.

The DOE released its revised standards in August, but quickly drew criticism again after the South Dakota Education Association said that the standards discourage inquiry-based learning and emphasize rote memorization, adding that Native American history and South Dakota history are “afterthoughts or lumped in with other standards.”

“They wildly deviate from current social studies standards and will upend the curriculum for every teacher, every classroom and every school,” the association stated shortly after the revised standards were released. “The proposed standards are too time specific and only focus on events from 1492 to 2008 raising many questions about how teachers would approach teaching current events.”

An Argus Leader review of the document found that the 2015 standards are less specific than the detailed 2022 document, which is nearly twice as long, among other notable differences.

The revised standards are “politicized,” said Tim Graf, superintendent of the Harrisburg School District — one of South Dakota’s fastest growing school districts. The changes involved a 15-member committee and were influenced by a conservative college, according to the Associated Press. Of the three educators on the committee, all three opposed the revised standards, Graf added.

Graf won’t be making public comments at Monday’s meeting, since he already took a personal day in September to drive three hours to Aberdeen and make public comments at the first Board revision meeting. His public comments were short but focused on his concern for the future of South Dakota public education with the state government involving itself in picking standards and curriculum.

“This concerns me greatly about what the future of public education is if this just becomes a political football for any future curriculum and options,” Graf told South Dakota Searchlight on Thursday.

The Board normally approves and is involved in curriculum and standards for public education across the state. But not to this degree of interference and control.

This is far bigger than just social studies standards.

“I believe this is just another example of South Dakota taking its teachers for granted and not respecting the work they do as professionals,” Graf said. “What concerns me is if we lose teachers over this … There is nothing more important than having a great teacher in classrooms and we’re having more and more trouble being able to fill our classrooms with teachers. This will exacerbate those concerns further.”

Another Harrisburg School District representative and a Harrisburg School Board member plan to make public comments on Monday. Graf encourages parents of South Dakota students to read through the revisions themselves.

The South Dakota Board of Education Standards’ next meeting on the topic will take place Monday at 9 a.m. at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, where board members will hear public comments on the issue.

The BOE’s first public meeting on the revision was held in Aberdeen and included 707 written public comments ahead of the meeting, with the majority opposed to the standards and only 67 proponents.

People interested in presenting in-person or remote public comment must register with the Department of Education by 2 p.m. on Nov. 18 by emailing Ferne.Haddock@state.sd.us. Those interested in submitting written comments must do so online for the Social Studies standards or the CTE standards by end-of-day Nov. 18.

Opponents and proponents will each receive 90 minutes for public comment. With 35 opponents who were signed up to speak in Aberdeen in September, only 27 of them fit into the 90-minute section.

South Dakota Searchlight is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. South Dakota Searchlight maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seth Tupper for questions: info@southdakotasearchlight.com. Follow South Dakota Searchlight on Facebook and Twitter.

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