PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Now not even the title of legislation moving through the South Dakota Legislature contains the phrase ‘critical race theory.’

Two proposals to reshape some of what might — or might not — be happening in South Dakota’s public schools and at state colleges and universities won approval Tuesday in the state House.

Both came from Republican Governor Kristi Noem. Neither of what House Republicans wound up passing bore much resemblance to her original versions.

HB 1012 was extensively amended in the House Education Committee last week. Among its restrictions, it now bans the state Board of Regents and the state Board of Technical Education from making any student “to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to divisive concepts.”

Only Republicans spoke for them Tuesday. “It does not impact classroom curriculum,” Representative Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, said.

Argued House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, “This bill is brought to you by fear.”

Three tribal members — Democrat Shawn Bordeaux of Mission, Republican Tamara St. John of Sisseton and Democrat Peri Pourier of Pine Ridge — spoke against it. Asked Pourier, “How do you legislate feeling?”

After the House approved it 54-14, even the title was changed, at the suggestion of Representative Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen. The words ‘critical race theory’ were replaced with ‘divisive concepts.’ The bill itself doesn’t refer to ‘critical race theory.’

HB 1337 passed 50-18. The purpose in its title says, “To protect elementary and secondary students from political indoctrination.” The wall that’s remaining isn’t very high, however. One part of the House-passed version of the bill now says, “Nothing in this section prohibits a school district employee from:
(1) Discussing, as part of a larger course of academic instruction, a divisive concept in an objective manner and without endorsement; or
(2) Permitting or presiding over student debate, regarding a divisive concept, in an objective manner and without endorsement.”

Peterson advocated for the second bill’s passage too. “There’s no CRT textbook,” she said. She referred to a handout that had been distributed at each representative’s desk with what she described as “buzzwords” that she said signal critical-race concepts are being taught.

Smith, who’s running for governor against the winner of the Republican primary, said the Legislature was trying to put a “far-right” philosophy into South Dakota’s classrooms.

“This is not our job to be the thought police in our country, the thought police,” Smith said. He added, “Sometimes discomfort helps you learn.”

Representative Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, said teachers already have a code of ethics that is actively enforced. “There’s no bite in this bill. It is meant to incite,” she said.

Peterson said the public-schools bill does address curriculum. “What we’re trying to do is prevent the promotion of these divisive concepts.”