SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In April of this year, Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order directing the Department of Education to review all policies, guidance, and content to weed out what the governor deems “inherently divisive concepts.”

After months of reviewing and several inquiries from KELOLAND News reporter Bob Mercer, the DOE released its findings last week on just how prevalent Critical Race Theory is in South Dakota K-12 education.

Of thousands of materials, policies, guidance, and content standards reviewed, the DOE found two to be in violation of Noem’s executive order. Ruth Raveling, an information specialist with the DOE, said that both standards found in violation were a part of the Law and Public Safety II Course.

“[The standards] will be addressed when the Law, Public Safety & Security content standards are reviewed in 2025,” Raveling said in an email to KELOLAND News on August 23.

The report lists the following components of the course as follows:

  • “Analyze differences in power and privilege related to people of culturally diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and practices.”
  • “Analyze issues of cultural assimilation and cultural preservation among ethnic and racial groups in South Dakota and the United States.”

The report then goes on to say that the course is not currently being offered in South Dakota at this time and when it is offered, it is “not frequently” taught at the K-12 level.

Janna Farley, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), doesn’t think the report’s findings are representative of a CRT problem in South Dakota. Instead, the ACLU asserts in a letter sent to the Board of Education Standards that the report and Noem’s executive order could potentially violate students and educators’ First Amendment rights.

“I mean, when you look at it over the last year, just nationwide, there’s really been an increase in state-based efforts to restrict the teaching of the so-called divisive concepts. And it’s a nationwide push. That seems like it’s a coordinated effort to limit teacher and student right to free speech, and to take away the ability to discuss racial justice issues in the classroom,” Farley said.

When asked if the two examples of inherently divisive concepts found out of thousands was representative of a larger problem, Governor Noem’s communications director Ian Fury said that the governor has worked to ensure that “CRT will not be the basis of education for South Dakota students.”

“We are glad that we are successfully preventing these divisive concepts from infiltrating our kids’ classrooms,” Fury said in an email to KELOLAND News on August 22.

In a campaign ad released on August 15, Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden boasted that the Noem administration has protected freedom in South Dakota “on all fronts.”

“And when they came after our kids with Critical Race Theory, we blocked their propaganda,” Rhoden said in the ad.

Over the last year, Noem has issued two executive orders, signed into bill a law and worked with the Board of Regents on the topic of Critical Race Theory. During the 2022 legislative session, HB 1012 was signed into law which prohibits universities and colleges from promoting inherently divisive concepts in orientations and trainings. The law does not impact curriculum at the university level.

After Noem’s bill banning inherently divisive concepts died in the legislature, the governor issued an executive order the remove such concepts from K-12 education.

“We are proactively removing Critical Race Theory before it has any opportunity to take hold in our schools. We are taking action to promote America’s true and honest history, including the history and culture of our Native American tribes, without any influence of Critical Race Theory or other divisive concepts,” Noem said in a statement following the DOE report’s release.

Noem’s gubernatorial opponent, Jamie Smith, told KELOLAND News via email that in his years of teaching middle school and high school, he never encountered Critical Race Theory.

“In all my years as a teacher, there was never a mention of CRT in our curriculum and none of my colleagues tried forcing their own political agenda on the students,” Smith said.

Smith went on to say that he does not view the two examples found as emblematic of a CRT problem in South Dakota.

“I think finding only two examples that violated her own executive order is embarrassing for the governor, and it’s probably why she withheld the report for so long,” Smith said. “The two examples pertain to advanced level courses for law enforcement training that, according to the report, ‘align with postsecondary and industry expectations for law enforcement training.’ South Dakota schools do a fantastic job of regulating themselves at the local level. This is just another issue that Kristi Noem is importing to our state.”

Due to the large amount of public feedback on the DOE report, the planned public hearing for August 22 was postponed to give the Board of Education Standards time to work through the comments. Once a date is decided for the hearing, Raveling said that the comments will be released online one week in advance.

As of Friday, August 26 there is not yet a rescheduled date for the public hearing.

The DOE is also currently in the process of drafting a new set of social studies standards, which is separate from the report on inherently divisive concepts. The first public meeting for social studies standards is scheduled for September 19th in Aberdeen with another on November 21 in Sioux Falls.