PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Starting Fall 2025, South Dakota will implement new social studies standards. 

The seven-member Board of Education Standards voted 5-2 to implement the controversial standards after a fourth and final public hearing Monday in Pierre. Board members discussed the standards for the first time after hearing more passionate testimony from both proponents and opponents at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Pierre. 

Board President Terry Nebelsick, who said he’s worked in public education across South Dakota, including 27 years in the Huron School District, opposed the standards.

The other board members are Rich Meyer, Phyllis Heineman, Linda Olsen, Steven Perkins, Julie Westra and Steve Willard. Meyer, Heineman, Olsen, Westra and Perkins all voted in favor, while Nebelsick and Willard voted against.

You can watch the 37-minute board discussion about the decision in the video above and read the 179-pages of the revised standards on the Department of Education website.

In starting the board discussion regarding the standards, Nebelsick said the standards don’t follow the intent of South Dakota lawmakers to curtail out-of-state influence in education standards. 

“There is no win-win in this process. The longer it’s gone on, it’s become obvious, it will be a lose-lose endeavor,” Nebelsick said. Nebelsick called out Republican lawmakers who have disrespected teachers in South Dakota and said government interference could lead to more students hating social studies and other unintended consequences.

Nebelsick cited a state law which required the Board of Education to conduct public hearings before adopting certain education standards. A 2012 law from lawmakers required public input on education standards and four meetings needed to be held across the state.

Perkins, who was appointed by Gov. Kristi Noem to replace Becky Guffin, said Nebelsick may have misinterpreted the 2014 law which was aimed at Common Core Standards.

State law was updated to not allow uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium, which are intended for adoption in two or more states. It doesn’t effect content standards created before July 1, 2014. Perkins said his point was the multistate ban only applies to standards adopted before July 1, 2016.

Willard, Belle Fourche superintendent, said he agreed with Nebelsick’s points.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” Willard said.

Perkins said when he was appointed to the board he was troubled by students who were failing. He said he doesn’t blame teachers but said people can be impacted by tunnel vision.

“We’ve got to do better. We can’t have thirty percent failing,” Perkins said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do that. We’ve got to start.”

Shannon Malone, director of learning and instruction for the DOE, said there were 1,295 public comments breaking down as 121 in favor, 1,137 against and 37 neutral comments, as of April 14. 

Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson resigned at the end of 2022, and Noem named then-Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves to replace her.

Graves gave the rebuttal for the social studies standards, bringing out framed portraits of President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln before taking them down after an objection because props weren’t allowed in opponent testimony.

Graves said the portraits were displayed in schools because children need heroes. He said the images were removed from classrooms from reforms by American philosopher John Dewey. Graves cited only 47% of American adults can name all three branches of government and urged approval of the standards.

Perkins asked about implementation and Graves said it will a be two-year process.

It has been a long road to this point for the social studies standards which were first released in Aug. 2021 before being delayed by Noem. After backlash, Noem called for a second group to create the current proposed standards released in Aug. 2022.

There is no current state or federal test that measures how students are learning about social studies in South Dakota at the present time. The proposed social studies standards don’t change that, but part of how public schools are accredited is through aligning with statewide standards.

Noem’s communications director, Ian Fury, tweeted about the portraits being removed from the board hearing.

“That was precisely Sec. Graves’ point. These American icons have been removed from our classrooms, and that’s a shame,” Fury tweeted.

Minutes after the decision was made, Noem’s office released a statement praising the standards.

“Today is a wonderful day for the students in South Dakota. They are our future,” Noem said in a news release. “Now, they will be taught the best social studies education in the country, one that is a true accounting of our history. We want our children to have honest and factual classroom teaching so they can be engaged participants in our civil society for the rest of their lives.”

In a news release after the board’s decision, South Dakota Education Association president Loren Paul said SDEA will be committed to working with teachers, parents and community leaders to implement the new standards and not “completely up-end the education we provide to students who must remain our focus.”

The SDEA also said it will be looking to work with state lawmakers about the makeup of the Board of Education Standards. The seven members are appointed by the governor and consented on by the Senate.

“The majority of the board’s current members are not certified to teach or be an administrator in an accredited school in South Dakota. That is a problem,” Paul said in a statement. ” Parents and educators must have confidence that the individuals serving on this board have a real time understanding of how the decisions the board makes will impact teachers and students every day in the classroom. This clarity will also assure that decisions by this board are about students and not politics.”

You can find a brief summary of what proponents and opponents said to the board. There were more than 40 speakers, both proponent and opponent and each side had 90 minutes with four minutes for each speaker.

Opponents worry about fallout from passing standards

Opponent testimony has started. Many opponents would like the 2021 proposed standards to move forward in place of the 2022 proposed standards. Opponents focused on all the opposition that has been voiced from education groups, school boards and teachers.

Opponents worried about fallout from the new standards, more teachers leaving South Dakota and were concerned about learning Native American history in South Dakota.

Scheduled to speak against the proposed standards are Michelle Baartman, Jan Mangelsen, Jennifer Nebelsick Lowery, Rich Mittelstedt, Mark St. Pierre, Kristen Daggett, Loren Paul, Charlene Lund, Michaela Seiber, Laurie Macziewski, Erica Boomsma, RoseMary Clairmont, Kat Hyslop, Karen Haynes, Mato White Plume, Honz Fuller, Faith Spotted Eagle, Jordan Rahyn and Aspen Taylor.

Nebelsick Lowery, the Tea Area superintendent, said public elementary school teachers shouldn’t be teaching her first-grade daughter about war. She said no votes will let people heal and people and South Dakota can move forward.

Mittelstedt said he’s happy to hear about the South Dakota history website and other resources going into history education. Mittelstedt, an employee for the South Dakota Education Association and former Watertown social studies teacher, said there needs to be a balance for civics and geography. 

St. Pierre is a former University of South Dakota professor in Native American studies. He said South Dakota’s biggest export is kids, corn and beef. He said the state needs to be better at being inclusive.

Daggett, the president of the Tea Area School Board, said she appreciated the board’s work and said they have a tough decision. Daggett said the board should think of the people who will be impacted most by the standards.

Paul, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said teachers have the best perspective on how the standards will impact students. Paul said the board can vote the standards into action and go back to day jobs without knowing the impact.

“Put yourselves in their shoes,” Paul said to board members about thinking about teachers. He said teachers may leave schools, go to a different state or retire early because of the standards which would add more problems to a teacher shortage.

Lund, a former teacher from Pierre, said more than two dozen school boards have opposed the standards. Clairmont and Hyslop said the standards don’t meet higher standards for Native American history in South Dakota.

White Plume said South Dakota is Oceti Sakowin territory. Oceti Sakowin refers collectively to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people and White Plume said Native American history is not being chased around by cowboys like seen on TV.

Rahyn, a senior at Todd County High School, said she’s been made fun of by other students for her Native American culture. She said she blames social studies standards for not teaching students more about Native American culture.

Remote testimony for opponents was from Stephanie Amiotte with the South Dakota ACLU and Linda Mead. People who testified for a second time were Dr. Sherry Johnson, Kelsey Lovseth and Samantha Walder.

Proponents encourage passing of standards

Proponents testified in favor the standards, mostly highlighting the importance to raise the bar for history and civics in South Dakota public education. Many proponents said the standards are content-rich and have a spiraling effect that continues over years.

Malone said the DOE will host a civics and history summit this summer in Sioux Falls. There will also be a new South Dakota history website and elementary teachers will be part of a South Dakota history road trip. 

“I strongly encourage you to pass these standards,” Malone said.

Ben Jones, state historian and past DOE Secretary, said the proposed social studies standards have substantial merits and there hasn’t been academic research presented against the standards.

“The Department of Education is ready, willing and able to aid teachers to put these standards into action in the Fall of 2025,” Jones said. He said the new standards set a higher bar that students in South Dakota can meet.

Tim Rave, a former lawmaker and president of the Board of Regents, said social studies standards are crucial. He said the Board of Regents prepares current and future teachers to excel in the classroom and will help the DOE with implementation of the new standards. 

Justin Blessinger, a professor at Dakota State University testifying on his own, said students are less aware of history. He said educator criticism of memorization is baffling to him. 

Judy Rapp, a former teacher in Pierre, said she supports the middle school standards. She said the foundation of history is by learning facts. Rapp said South Dakota’s American Indian history should be a separate course.

Madisen Vetter, a recent Aberdeen Central High School, said she did not learn good history in high school. She said many students are confused about the branches of government and how elections work. 

Sarah Hitchcock, a parent and former teacher, said she supports the standards. She said she doesn’t agree the standards are too tough for students. 

“We have so many resources to help these students,” Hitchcock said.

Remote testimony, via Zoom, was given by Christopher Motz, Susan Peters, Joseph Gebel, Jonathan Butcher, Fred Deutsch, Bethany Soye, Hannah Determan, Janet Finzen and Ann Wipf.

Deutsch and Soye are both Republican state lawmakers that serve on the House Education committee.

People who have previously testified who also spoke on Monday were Matthew Monfore, Chad Bishop, Christina David and Stephanie Hiatt. Other in-person testimony was given by Tonchi Weaver and Florence Thompson.

Finzen, Motz and Hiatt all served on the workgroup that developed the standards.

9:15 a.m.

The meeting has started. There are public hearings for other education standards, including Career and Technical Education, Business Management and Administration, Hospitality and Tourism, Marketing, Transportation, Distribution and Logistics and Capstone Course.

The board approved all the CTE standards.

8:40 a.m.

The board has held public comment on the proposed social studies at three other meetings in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. 

After the Rapid City meeting, the Department of Education said there’s been 1,094 written public comments submitted since the proposed standards were released.

The South Dakota Education Association is one of several educator groups that oppose the proposed standards.

“I think what you’re going to hear on Monday is a continuation of concerns expressed by teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, community members, and throughout this process those concerns have yet to be addressed,” said Sandra Waltman, director of communications and government relations with the South Dakota Education Association. “We’re still concerned about the age appropriateness of the standards. We’re concerned about the amount of rote memorization and just the number of the standards.”

In a statement to KELOLAND News Friday, the DOE said the department “stands behind the fundamental aspects of the standards as necessary to helping our students become informed, contributing members of society.” The statement goes on to say “we believe these standards encompass the critical people, places, events, and ideas that shaped our nation and world.”

Retired Hillsdale College professor William Morrisey has a contract with the state that will total $200,000 to facilitate a revision of the state’s social studies content standards.