Facing bipartisan pressure, Noem delays social studies curriculum implementation

Marching from Steamboat Park to north to the capitol, protesters called for proposed education...
Marching from Steamboat Park to north to the capitol, protesters called for proposed education standards to be stopped.(Dakota News Now)
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - Governor Kristi Noem has pressed pause on the implementation of new social studies standards, after months of fierce opposition and blowback.

“Equal access to learning about Native American heritage and culture in our learning institutions is important,” said South Dakota ACLU Communications Director Janna Farley. “Our history needs to be accurately represented in every classroom.”

Last week, advocates came to Pierre to stage a protest against the proposed education standards, which removed several references to Native American history originally included in a proposal written by a commission made up of roughly 50 South Dakota educators.

However, other critics to Noem’s right believe the proposed curriculum does not go far enough, saying that it was a deviation from ‘1776 Pledge’ Noem had signed and spearheaded. Monday, the National Review, a conservative publication, criticized Noem’s handling of the curriculum retooling, citing the state’s Department of Education contracting with the American Institute for Research (AIR). Stanley Kurtz, the author of the piece, accuses AIR of being “a leading advocate of action civics and a proponent of teaching for ‘social justice.’”

State Representative Sue Peterson (R-Sioux Falls) resigned from the commission tasked with reviewing the social study standards in July, also citing ideological differences.

“If this delay is an opportunity to make sure that we do what matches the 1776 Pledge, I think that is excellent,” Peterson said. Peterson signed onto the 1776 Pledge alongside Noem. “I think it is the right move... I support Governor Noem and her 1776 Pledge, and believe we both want what is best for South Dakota children.”

The Governor took to both her Twitter and Facebook accounts to provide conflicting reasons for her decision to implement the delay.

I have directed the Department of Education to delay implementation of the state's social studies standards up to one...

Posted by Governor Kristi Noem on Monday, September 20, 2021

Noem has said that she is willing to allow up to a years delay in order for reconsideration to take place.

Activists, like Farley, hope that the new curriculum will accurately reflect the state’s rich Native American history. While many of Noem’s conservative counterparts hope that she will stay true to her word to crack down on ‘critical race theory.’

“It just goes to show what robust public participation can do in the political process,” Farley explained. “It is encouraging to see so many people expressing their voice and opinions, in anything, but especially in our state’s social studies standards.”

Noem has not said what deadline she sees next for the curriculum implementation, other than that she wants to continue to hear feedback from constituents and state legislators until then.

The South Dakota Department of Education did not respond to request for an interview.