PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The director for state government’s Office of Indian Education said Wednesday that Governor Kristi Noem’s executive order against Critical Race Theory doesn’t affect the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings that K-12 schools in South Dakota can use to teach students about Native American culture.
Fred Osborn said the governor’s order applies only to the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education Standards. Noem reorganized operations of several state departments after she took office in 2019. One step was moving the Office of Indian Education out of the Department of Education and placing it under the state Department of Tribal Relations.
Osborn made his comments Wednesday to the state Indian Education Advisory Council. Among those on the teleconference was state Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute, who near the end said he agreed with everything that the Indian education director had said during the meeting.
The governor in the order said the Department of Education must have a report to her by July 1 “detailing any policies, guidelines, websites, best practices, materials, programs, training, or content standards that promote inherently divisive concepts and identify any necessary administrative or legislative action needed to end the use of all inherently divisive concepts in education.”
“They have not issued that report, as far as I’m aware,” Osborn told council members. “They’re taking an inventory, for lack of a better word.”
The governor’s order further directs the Department of Education to end or modify no later than October 1 all policies, materials, guidelines, best practices, websites and trainings that have been found to be inherently divisive concepts.
The order also tells the Board of Education Standards to review all K-12 content standards and use the standards-revision process to remove any found to be inherently divisive. The Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings are listed as part of the South Dakota standards, and the Department of Education website offers information on how teachers at various grade levels can use OSEUs in their classrooms.
About the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings, Osborn said, “None are considered divisive by the executive order.” Asked by a council member what the Department of Education was examining, Osborn said, “I wish I could speak to that.”
The governor recently decided against reappointing a member of the Board of Education Standards, president Jacqueline Sly of Rapid City. Sly however remains a member of the Indian Education Council. She said Department of Education staffers are reviewing such things as presentations that have been made and conferences that were held or they attended.
“Then if there are things they have found, they will have to make decisions how to change those,” Sly said.
Osborn emphasized that the governor’s order didn’t extend to his office. “We have not been tasked with doing a review. We are not doing a review of anything we have created,” he said.
A council member asked whether the council will get the Department of Education report. Osborn said he didn’t know but would ask the department if it could share the report with the council.
Another council member asked whether the order affects local school boards. Said Sly, “From reading this, it’s in the hands of the Department of Education, what they have to do with this, is my understanding.” Said Osborn, “It doesn’t usurp local control.”
Osborn suggested the council wait for the report to get further answers. Another council member said he didn’t understand why Osborn wasn’t involved or at least consulted. Replied Osborn, “My task is set by statute. It doesn’t cover Department of Education policy or procedures. I support the history and culture of Native American populations in the state of South Dakota. My duties are set by statute.”
Another council member said she wanted to be sure the Department of Education would consult with the Indian Education Council on any changes to the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings. Osborn said he could “assure that no changes to the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings will happen” without the council’s involvement.
Osborn said the understandings aren’t set to start the process for possible revisions until 2023 — the DOE website shows the Board of Education Standards would hold four public hearings in 2024-2025 on OSEUs — and he wouldn’t let changes occur without being involved.
A 2007 state law requires the Indian Education Advisory Council to consult with the Department of Education regarding Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings.