PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Education Association, an organization representing K-12 teachers and other school employees, opposes the 179 pages of proposed social-studies standards that the state Board of Education Standards is considering. The board will hold a fourth and final hearing Monday, April 17, at the Pierre Ramkota Conference Center. KELOLAND News asked Sandra Waltman, SDEA’s director of communications and government relations, for a deeper explanation of its perspective.

KELOLAND: It appears from the state Department of Education’s FAQs that the department leadership expects the state Board of Education Standards to adopt the proposal. Can you please bring me up to speed on SDEA’s official position regarding the proposal?

Waltman: SDEA’s concerns with the proposed social studies standards remain the same. The South Dakota Department of Education has yet to address the issues with the age appropriateness of the standards, especially in the earlier grades. The proposal continues to lack any meaningful geography, South Dakota or Native American History standards. The proposed standards do not align with the current graduation standards and will not prepare students for college or a career post-graduation.

KELOLAND: In a Jan. 23, 2023, statement posted on the SDEA website, executive director Ryan Rolfs said, “(T)he current proposal still fails to include content-rich geography standards. If these changes were truly significant, the SD. Dept. of Education should consider restarting the hearing process to give those living in the Aberdeen and Sioux Falls areas a chance to weigh in on the new proposal.” Has the department and/or the state board responded to the suggestion of restarting the process?

Waltman: The Board of Education Standards has not indicated that it will restart or pause the process to bring the two sides together to work out a compromise. This is despite the overwhelming objections expressed by parents, educators and education groups. (The Associated School Boards of South Dakota and the South Dakota School Superintendents Association have further expressed their objections this week.)

If it is true that the South Dakota Department of Education has made significant changes, then the process should start over. However, most of the changes to this point have been mostly grammatical. In January, a few more references to geography were added, but the proposal still lacks any meaningful human geography or geospatial standards. The recent changes added 40 pages through formatting but did very little to change or improve the substance of the standards. 

KELOLAND: Rolfs also stated, “We continue to urge the Board of Education Standards to address the issues with the age appropriateness of the standards, maintain South Dakota History in the fourth grade and include the relevant Native American History that is identified in consultation with the nine tribes of South Dakota.” Has the department and/or the state board responded to those points?

Waltman: While the department has incorporated some Lakota language in the latest revisions, the standards still lack a true and deep history of our indigenous people. To say the standards fail to tell the complete history of our state or its indigenous people is an understatement. All nine tribes have officially opposed the standards. 

KELOLAND: The governor has appointed several new members to the state board as the proposal has progressed through its development and series of four public hearings. State law doesn’t appear to address the addition of new members during the series of hearings; it instead requires that a quorum be present for a hearing to be valid. Would there be any grounds for a lawsuit that would attempt to halt the board/department from putting the proposal into effect?

Waltman: Many legal questions have been raised about this process and it’s something SDEA is exploring.  Regardless of any possible legal issues, it is hard to believe that the Legislature established a hearing process where overwhelming opposition to proposed standards could simply be ignored.  At a minimum, the process is clearly broken if the (state) board chooses to adopt the proposal in its current form.  The students of South Dakota deserve better.

KELOLAND: I’ve also tried to find more on the potential costs that school districts could face as a result of the new standards, but I’ve drawn a blank.

Waltman: The cost of implementing the new standards is a very important question that the South Dakota Department of Education has yet to address. SDEA has received word that the department put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to curriculum vendors to solicit bids for curriculum options that districts could purchase. However, vendors are declining to submit anything because they don’t have any resources aligned with the new standards. This is going to leave every district scrambling.

The only option will be to turn to Hillsdale College, which has indicated it could provide districts with “free curriculum.” (NOTE: A former Hillsdale College faculty member was hired as a consultant to help develop the standards.) That begs the question, why are all 149 school districts forced to use a product from a small liberal arts college in Michigan? Where is the local control? What about parent input at the local level? How is this serving the students who live in South Dakota?