Fight over S.D. social-studies standards causes Indian Education Conference to be pushed back

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Indian Education Conference that was planned for October 25 has been rescheduled.

The new dates are November 15-16, state Indian education director Fred Osborn said Thursday.

The reason for the change was the decision to reschedule for October 25 the next meeting of the state Board of Education Standards.

That meeting originally was planned for Monday, September 20. But controversy about proposed social-studies content standards caused the public hearing in Aberdeen to be rescheduled for a larger location.

Then on Monday, Governor Kristi Noem directed the proposed social-studies standards be pulled. That came the same day that a writer in The National Review strongly criticized the state Department of Education for being too liberal and mishandling the process.

Among the issues was removal of some Native American references by the Department of Education from a draft version that had been assembled by a department-sanctioned group of educators, historians and others.

Several hundred people paraded through Pierre in a protest September 13. State Highway Patrol troopers stationed at the Capitol’s first- and second-floor entrances in the hours around the march.

Osborn told the state Indian Education Advisory Council on Thursday that his office supports the governor’s directive to withdraw.

“Right now there is no identification of the process of what that delay means,” he said.

The Indian education office was moved from the Department of Education to the Department of Tribal Relations shortly after Noem took office as governor in 2019.

An attempt to move it back fell one vote short of passage in the state Senate earlier this year.

Osborn was part of the group that assembled the draft standards. He said constituents and educators have asked him for a statement. He said the office supports the governor’s delay so that further input can be received. “I believe that is necessary,” he said.

For more than a decade, the Indian education office has made available to South Dakota schools a Native American-based set of teaching aids known as the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings.

Osborn said his office would continue that effort.

The public comments on proposed social standards will remain open during the delay, Osborn said. “So please, give your public comment.”

He asked whether any council member wanted to make a statement. There was only silence.

Earlier on Thursday, Osborn said the Indian education conference would be virtual and free this year. He said registration would open next week on websites for his office and the Department of Tribal Relations.

The theme is social and mental wellbeing of Native American students. He said the breakout sessions would be recorded and made available for viewing.

“There really is a great training this year to identify those having mental issues,” he said.

Joe Moran from the Department of Education presented updates on a survey on the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings that is underway among some 800 principals at public, private, federal and tribal schools throughout South Dakota.

 Moran said he will loop back with tribal education directors on the survey results and anticipated there would be a presentation to the Board of Education Standards at a meeting later this year. Moran said he doesn’t expect anything final from the survey until the end of 2021. “It’s not as simple as let’s add up who said yes and who said no,” he said.

Moran also said the two departments have been working on an ‘innovation configuration’ map for school districts to use to implement change, such as increased use of the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings.

The final draft will be completed in the coming weeks and then will be posted for schools to use, with some serving as pilots.

“There’s mountains still to climb, we are aware of those mountains and look forward to the challenge,” Moran said.

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