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Public hearing on controversial social studies standards set for Friday in Rapid City

RAPID CITY, S.D. – First there was the unexplained change in the date and location of a previously announced public hearing.

Followed by Gov. Kristi Noem’s announcement on Tuesday that she would not reappoint Aberdeen, SD school superintendent Becky Guffin as chairwoman of the South Dakota Board of Education Standards, replacing her instead with Sioux Falls, SD businessman Steve Perkins.

Then a release yesterday (Feb. 8, 2023) from Noem’s recently appointed Secretary of Education Dr. Joe Graves announcing that three distinguished educators had endorsed Noem’s version of social studies standards written by William Morrisey, professor emeritus of Hillsdale College in Michigan who was paid $200,000. The three are  E.D. Hirsch, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Education and Humanities, at the University of Virginia; Joel Kline, former chancellor, New York City Public Schools; and Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

All of this ahead of tomorrow’s (Feb. 10, 2023) third public hearing on South Dakota’s K-12 social studies standards, in Rapid City at the Rushmore Hotel beginning at 9:00a.m. (MST).

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. She appointed a new 15-member social studies standards committee with only two current South Dakota teachers represented.

It was discovered that after Noem and the governor’s office staff selected the workgroup members, a document that would become the standards was sent to workgroup members provided by Hillsdale College, a conservative, Christian college based in Michigan.

Noem has advocated for the “1776 Pledge to Save Our Schools” as part of a conservative drive to emphasize the qualities of the founders of the United States. The current proposed South Dakota standards emphasize the qualities of America’s founders and mimics language Noem has used as she jumped on the conservative cause of weeding certain “divisive” teachings on race from public schools.

The DOE released its revised standards in August 2022, 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.”

South Dakota educators, parents and others submitting comments and/or testifying at the first two public hearings held Sept. 19, 2022 in Aberdeen and Nov. 18, 2022 in Sioux Falls, S.D., have overwhelmingly rejected versions of social studies standards directed by Noem.

Opponents have called it a “thinly veiled political document.”

Ryan Rolfs, the Executive Director of the South Dakota Education Association that represents teachers told KELO he feels the whole process for far has left a negative impression on educators.  “I think it also feels to a lot of educators as if it’s lacking transparency throughout this process – throughout the entirety. There have been moments where rules have been changed, and rules have been pulled. Where standards have been proposed, then standards have been pulled and then re-proposed.”

At its regular meeting this week, and after debate and several amendments to a resolution, the Rapid City School Board unanimously declared themselves against the state’s new social studies standards supported by Gov. Kristi Noem.

At Friday’s public hearing, up to 90 minutes for proponents and 90 minutes for opponents will be allowed, and each speaker will have up to four minutes.  People who can’t attend a public hearing in person are welcome to provide written public comment and also have the option to testify via Zoom.  See more information here.

The Pierre, S.D.  public hearing  is currently scheduled for Monday, April 17, at the Ramkota Conference Center.

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