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First public comment period for proposed social studies curriculum set for Sept. 19

The Board of Education Standards, charged with overseeing periodic changes to the state's curriculum, will hear public comment from proponents and opponents of the social studies standards proposed on Aug. 15.

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Gov. Kristi Noem speaks to a crowd at the South Dakota State Fair. Noem has been a proponent of teaching "a true and honest history."
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The first opportunity for South Dakotans to offer comments on the proposed update to the state’s social studies curriculum will come during the Monday, Sept. 19, meeting of the Board of Education Standards, which oversees content standards for elementary and secondary schools.

The proposed standards, released on Aug. 15, can be read in full here .

The state’s curricula in several subjects are reworked every seven years. The 16-person committee tasked with compiling the proposed curriculum was composed of legislators, educators and residents, a different makeup then the group behind the most recent standards revision finished in 2015, which featured a 35-person workgroup composed entirely of educators.

William Morrisey, a professor emeritus of politics at Hillsdale College, a conservative liberal arts school in Michigan, is serving as the committee’s facilitator. He’ll be paid $200,000 in total for submitting the proposed standards, handling public hearings and having the standards approved.

In a video posted to her personal accounts in late August, Gov. Kristi Noem touted the standards as “teaching a true and honest history,” one that couldn’t be used as a “racist tool for division, hate and anger.”

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After the proposed standards were made public, the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) released a statement that questioned the feasibility of implementing the curriculum as written and relayed concerns over their “age-appropriateness.”

Deb Olson, a former teacher, elementary principal and the current chair of the school board in Mitchell, had similar worries. Although the school board has not officially discussed the state standards, Olson says she submitted a written public comment in her personal capacity for Monday’s meeting.

“I spent some time reviewing them and I have some concerns about the developmentally appropriate nature of the standards, and the amount of instruction time that would need to be spent to teach those standards,” Olson told Forum News Service on Sept. 14.

In anticipation of the upcoming meeting, the SDEA released a side-by-side comparison of the curriculum used since 2015 and the proposed overhaul introduced last month. In kindergarten , for example, the new standards list approximately 60 figures from American history, calling for students to “learn stories from their childhoods, lives as adults, and examples of their character.”

Though teachers appear to be allowed to pick and choose a handful of figures from the proposed list, the extent of civics instruction in the 2015 standards was “identify[ing] our country’s flag … as a symbol of the nation” and “understand[ing] classroom rules and why they are important.”

An earlier meeting of the board planned for Aug. 22, which would have included a public comment period, was postponed “in order to review comments that have been submitted,” according to an Aug. 19 news release .

Monday’s meeting will take place at 9 a.m. in the Dakota Event Center in Aberdeen. It can be livestreamed here .

To participate in the public comment period either in person or over Zoom, email ferne.haddock@state.sd.us no later than 2 p.m. Central on Friday, Sept. 16. Written comments can be submitted here before the end of the day on Friday.

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MORE BY JASON HARWARD
Among the coalition pushing for South Dakotans to support Amendment D is a group of community health centers, which are key sources of basic medical and dental services for low-income South Dakotans. However, opponents of the measure say the promises of the expansion don't align with reality.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: KRISTI NOEMEDUCATION
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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