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Gov. Kristi Noem delays update of school standards, after taking fire on Indigenous references

The decisions is something of an about-face by Gov. Kristi Noem. The governor and others in her administration, as well as a former chief of staff, had defended the proposed changes and pointed out the standards included more mentions of the state's Indigenous people than previous standards.

kristi noem south dakota press conference.JPG
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at a news conference in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday, Oct. 13. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — New state social studies standards will be delayed for up to a year, said South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem , Monday, Sept. 20, to give state education officials more time to consider input from the public.

In early August, Forum News Service broke the news that Noem officials had made significant 11th-hour changes to a draft version of the K-12 standards to water down references to the state's Indigenous people and culture, changes proposed by a working group of educators and others.

The state's published version of the standards drew criticism from members of the working group, legislators, tribal leaders and Indigenous groups in the state, and also sparked a protest at the state Capitol in Pierre and a walk-out by some students at a Rapid City city high school.

"The Department of Education changed the working group’s recommendations to the social studies standards significantly, but it is clear to me that there needs to be more public input to bring greater balance and emphasis on our nation’s true and honest history," Noem said in a statement. "Following public feedback from several constituencies, it is clear there is more work to be done to get this right."

The decision is something of an about-face by Noem. The governor and others in her administration , as well as a former chief of staff , had defended the proposed changes and pointed out the standards included more mentions of the state's Indigenous people than previous standards.

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The state Department of Education, bracing for a large group at its next public hearing on the standards, had moved the meeting's location to a larger venue in Aberdeen on Oct. 25. The Education Department had already received more than 600 comments on the standards, The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported last week.

Now, South Dakotans will have more time to comment on the draft standards before they're implemented, although the timeline and location of new hearings hasn't yet been announced.

"We will be delaying further formal action on the draft social study standards to allow more opportunity for public input, increased legislative engagement, and additional voices to be heard in this discussion," Noem said. "Our focus remains the same: ensuring that South Dakota students learn a true and honest account of American and South Dakota history."

A Forum News Service comparison of the draft standards approved by the state's working group with those released for public comment showed significant changes that stripped out expanded requirements intended to broaden South Dakota students' learning about Native Americans.

The social studies standards have become another front in the ongoing debate about the contents of new school standards, one in which Noem has expressed strong opinions and interest. She championed the overhaul of civic education in her State of the State speech to lawmakers in January, and signed a political pledge regarding the same.

The last-minute alterations mirrored that pledge. The working group's final report said a goal was for students to become "active, engaged citizens." But a newly added preface instead extolled the "framers of our nation's constitution" as "great students of history, geography, civics, and economics."

In Noem's Monday announcement, she said she would still plan to ask lawmakers to codify elements of a July executive order on critical race theory, and also bans the theory and what's known as "action civics" as a basis for instruction in South Dakota schools.

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Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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