‘We don’t have radical leftists’: Education standards workgroup member discusses delay of standards

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A member of the South Dakota social studies education standards workgroup is once again speaking out about the changes made to the proposed standards. The controversy first arose when a revised draft of the standards was released by the Dept. of Education which saw the removal of Native American history and culture.

On Monday, Governor Kristi Noem announced she had ordered that the implementation of the standards be delayed for up to a year. In addition to announcing that she is calling for the legislature to pass a law codifying her executive order 2021-11, the release also said the following:

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.  Following public feedback from several constituencies, it is clear there is more work to be done to get this right.

Gov. Kristi Noem

Noem also made comments on both her personal and political Twitter accounts.

Also stated in the release was the reasoning that implementation of the standards would be delayed to provide more time for public input.

Paul Harens, a longtime public school teacher and member of the education standards workgroup, says that time has already passed. “The public input has already been given,” said Harens “and my understanding is the majority of it is against passing the standards as they are written now.”

Haren’s had previously spoken with KELOLAND News, acting as an unofficial spokesperson for the work group, discussing the discontent felt by himself and other members about what he called a “wholesale revision” of what the group had put together.

Asked if he felt the decision to delay the implementation of the standards was a good thing for those opposing the revised version, Harens was blunt.

Jacob Newton: When you look at this delay — up to a year; do you see this a win?

Paul Harens: No.

Harens said that by delaying the implementation for such a period as one year, Noem is violating statutes and regulations. “We were told by statute and by regulations that the process had to follow what we were doing, which includes these hearings,” he said.

“In South Dakota we don’t have any radical leftists.”

Paul Harens

The timing of the cancellation was of interest to Harens. “I find it very interesting that she does this when the [National Review] magazine article came out about her,” he said, referencing an article in the right-wing publication criticizing Noem for allowing ‘hard-left activists’ to take over education in South Dakota.

KELOLAND News reached out to Gov. Noem’s office to see if the National Review article influenced her decision. This story will be updated when we receive a response.

Harens takes issue with this characterization.

The [National Review] goes in-depth basically talking about the people who were doing the work — calling us radical leftists. In South Dakota we don’t have any radical leftists. We have people who care about the children, and that was our goal; was to do what was best for the children of South Dakota.

Paul Harens

Harens took care to note during the interview that he is not a ‘radical leftist’ as implied by the National Review, but rather a registered republican.

Moving past the opinions expressed in the National Review and whether they influenced Noem’s decision, Harens looked to the future to discuss what he’d like to happen going forward. “If she’s going to push it back a year and she’s going to have those standards revised again, I would think the original workgroup should be involved,” he said.

Among the changes to the workgroup’s proposal that Harens brings up are the introduction and preface, which he says were revised in a political manner. “They entered politics when they re-did the preface and they re-did the introduction.”

Harens said the new preface is something the workgroup was not involved with, and that it appears to be lifted from former President Donald Trump’s controversial ‘1776’ project. Harens said he has made efforts to get answers from the DOE about who wrote the preface and introduction, but has not been successful.

KELOLAND News has also reached out to the DOE to ask the names of the employees responsible for the revisions to the standards, but have not been given the answer.

Harens said he stands by the standards that the workgroup put together, as well as the way they completed the process. “We wrote standards that everybody could use,” he said.

When it comes to the final decision, Harens said the work group has no power. “All we were told was to write what we thought was best for the children, and that’s what we did,” he said. “We were told the only changes that would probably be made were changes to grammar, our sentence structure or numbering.”

Harens said the changes were much more comprehensive than that, and provided the document below, which he says was created by workgroup members, to illustrate this fact. Harens said everything in red was something changed by the DOE.

Harens said that the rhetoric surrounding the revisions, as well as the conflict between the workgroup and the state, has led to some individuals feeling as though their employment employment is at risk. He said that this was part of the reason he decided to speak up.

Harens is a retired educator who taught for 39 years in public K-12 schools, as well as one year at the University of South Dakota. He has a masters degree in public communication with a minor in counseling. Harens has continued to serve as a substitute teacher as recently as this year. Counting the years he has substituted, he said he has been working in education for 47 years.

You can view the DOE’s content standards review page here, where the link for public input can be found.

You can view the full revised draft of the proposed content standards released by the DOE here, and the workgroup’s original draft here.

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