PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — When the South Dakota Department of Education unexpectedly postponed a public hearing last month on controversial rules the governor wants to keep what she describes as inherently divisive concepts out of K-12 schools, the two-paragraph announcement said the delay was “to review comments that have been submitted.”

Three weeks later, the rules continue to be shown as proposed, but the department hasn’t said anything more about them. Nor has another hearing date been announced. “When it is, we will provide notice at least 20 days in advance,” spokesperson Ruth Raveling told KELOLAND News this week.

That however didn’t stop Republican Governor Kristi Noem and her lieutenant governor, Larry Rhoden, from continuing to use one such divisive concept, known as Critical Race Theory, to attack their Democrat opponent, state Representative Jamie Smith, as they battle for election this fall.

Smith, a former teacher and coach who now sells real estate, voted against two related pieces of divisive-concepts legislation that Noem brought in the 2022 session. The one dealing with higher public education eventually passed. The one aimed for K-12 schools, however, ultimately failed.

Days after the 2022 session ended, Noem issued an executive order on April 5 titled “Restricting CRT in DOE Policies.” The order specifically criticized CRT at the K-12 level and told the Department of Education and the state Board of Education Standards how they must handle such issues going forward, including the board removing any divisive concepts from South Dakota’s K-12 standards, and adopting rules to prohibit them in the future.

The department formally proposed the rules in July for the state board to consider. Aberdeen schools superintendent Becky Guffin is the state board’s president. The August 22 hearing, had it occurred, would have coincided with her district’s first day of classes. Guffin now says she doesn’t know whether the department has anything different in mind.

“I am unaware of any revised plans by the department regarding the anti-CRT rules,” Guffin told KELOLAND News this week. Asked whether she had any more information on why the hearing was postponed, she said, “I am sorry, but I do not.”

Another part of the governor’s executive order told the department to review its various policies, rules, laws, content standards and procedures for divisive concepts and deliver a report by July 1. The department publicly released the report six weeks later on August 15.

Only a few instances were found.

One of them was a state law requiring K-12 schools and school districts to report various data including “educational equity.” The report said the department would prepare legislation to eliminate that phrase for state lawmakers to consider in 2023.

The same section of the report noted that several changes would be required in rules governing the process where schools seek waivers from the department. That portion said:

“Administrative Rules 24:43:08:02 and 24:43:08:06 pertain to school district waivers from certain
administrative rules. Both reference ‘promote equity’ as a reason a district could request a waiver.
Since the concept of promoting equity may be construed as divisive, and because the waiver outlines clearer reasons for requesting a waiver (e.g., enhance educational opportunity), DOE is pursuing appropriate rule changes.”

Those proposed changes were part of the rules package that was put on hold.

The state board meanwhile plans a public hearing Monday, September 19, starting at 9 a.m. CT, in Dakota Event Center in Aberdeen, on a proposed set of social-studies standards that are likely to draw many comments. The board will hold at least three more hearings on them, including in Sioux Falls on November 21, before deciding what to do.