SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Concerns with the renewed South Dakota social studies standards revision process continue to mount as the date of the first public hearing on the proposed standards nears.

That first hearing will be held Monday, Sept. 19, 2022 at 9 a.m. at the Dakota Event Center in Aberdeen.

Most recently, concern has risen once again after a member of the new 15-person commission selected by the DOE and the Governor’s Office spoke out, saying he no longer supports the plan.

That commission member is Rapid City Middle School teacher Shaun Nielsen (one of only three certified South Dakota K-12 educators on the commission). At issue for Nielsen is the fact that the commission he is a part of did not create the new proposed standards. Instead, he says a set of pre-written standards were given to the commission.

Nielson said these standards arrived in the mail from Hillsdale, Michigan, the home of social studies standards commission facilitator William Morrisey, a retired professor of politics at the small, private, conservative Christian Hillsdale College.

The state is paying Morrisey $200,000 to act as facilitator.

KELOLAND News reporter Renee Ortiz reached out to the DOE in August, 2022 to find out how Morrisey, who has no apparent connection to South Dakota beyond his ties to other Hillsdale alumni in the state, was selected as facilitator.

DOE information specialist Ruth Raveling told Ortiz that Morrisey submitted a proposal and was awarded the contract through the RFP (Request for Proposal) process. The RFP form for the process can be seen here. The project request summary can be seen here.

The contents of Morrisey’s RFP are a mystery to the public, despite the fact that the RFP is reported to be attached to the contract on OpenSD. It is not.

On August 31, Ortiz sent a public records request to the DOE, asking for the following:

  1. Total Number of Applicants/Applications for the Request for Proposal Social Studies Standards Revision;
  2. Total Number of Responses/Communications between respondents and the state;
  3. Total Number of Applicants considered for the position;
  4. Names of those considered;
  5. Total Number of Rejected Applications;
  6. Names of those rejected; and
  7. Questions about the position submitted by Morrisey, and the responses from the state.

On September 9, 2022, the DOE rejected the request in its entirety.

In an email from DOE senior staff attorney Amanda LaCroix, the denial stated that “the number of applicants, names of unselected applicants, their applications with any material associated with their applications, and the materials used by employees during the selection process are not subject to disclosure.”

LaCroix cited elements of South Dakota Codified Law 1-27, including 1.5(12), 1.5(22), 1.7 and 1.9.

These read as follows:

  • 1-27-1.5 – Certain records not open to inspection and copying.
    • (12)    Correspondence, memoranda, calendars or logs of appointments, working papers, and records of telephone calls of public officials or employees.
    • (22)    Records which, if disclosed, would constitute an unreasonable release of personal information.
  • 1-27-1.7 – Drafts, notes, recommendations, and memoranda in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended are exempt from disclosure pursuant to §§ 1-27-1 to 1-27-1.15, inclusive.
  • 1-27-1.9 – No elected or appointed official or employee of the state or any political subdivision may be compelled to provide documents, records, or communications used for the purpose of the decisional or deliberative process relating to any decision arising from that person’s official duties. Any document that is otherwise already public is not made confidential by reason of having been used in deliberations.

The public records request has been revised and resubmitted, asking only for what KELOLAND News believes can not be interpreted as falling within the exemptions listed by the DOE. These are the following:

  1. Total Number of Applicants/Applications for the Request for Proposal Social Studies Standards Revision
  2. Total Number of Responses
  3. Total Number of Applicants considered for the position
  4. Total Number of Rejected Applications

KELOLAND News has not yet heard back from the DOE regarding receipt of the revised request.