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Legal Question Hangs Over SD Social-Studies Process


Tuesday, October 26, 2021   

PIERRE, S.D. -- A new framework is moving forward for updating social-studies standards in South Dakota schools, and as the process took shape, a civil rights group warned the state is likely overstepping constitutional boundaries for earlier removal of Native American references.

The ACLU said even though South Dakota is starting from scratch, the state still is in danger of violating Equal Protection and First Amendment provisions under the U.S. Constitution.

It stems from removal of several references to Oceti Sakowin history and culture during the first attempt to update standards.

Stephanie Amiotte, legal director for the ACLU of South Dakota, said it prevents Indigenous students from feeling seen in the classroom.

"Any time a child feels welcome and feels as though they are heard and seen by being represented in the classroom, there's going to be a natural flow of receiving education," Amiotte asserted.

The removal happened after a working group developed a new curriculum and submitted it to the state. Gov. Kristi Noem paused the process amid criticism over the changes.

The ACLU called on the administration to include all removed references in any new draft, along with additional Indigenous topics.

A Noem spokesman said the group is misunderstanding the administration's approach, contending the standards in question remain in place.

Amiotte, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said while they are ultimately trying to ensure Native American students do not feel discriminated against, they also want to improve learning opportunities for everyone by fostering honest curriculum.

"We think that it's incredibly important for the well-being, not only of Native American students, to know that we are a state that includes all races," Amiotte stressed.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education Standards has adopted a new timeline. It includes opening up the application process next Monday for those who want to be part of a new working group that will help craft a plan.

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