Critical Race Theory and Public Education

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There has been much national discussion the past couple of years about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its insidious effect on public education.  There seems to be no clear definition or understanding of what constitutes CRT, other than it’s a theory we don’t want taught in public classrooms.

In meetings prior to the start of the legislative session, we heard that CRT is not being taught in our local schools.  

The Governor’s office did bring in two bills this year dealing with how “divisive concepts” such as race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin are taught.  The first, HB 1012, dealt with higher education, and ultimately passed both the House and Senate.  I voted for this bill.

A second bill, HB 1337, dealt with public K-12 education, and began with the preamble that “Politicizing elementary and secondary instruction by promoting politically divisive concepts or pressuring students into political activism inappropriately injects politics into the classroom and should not serve as a basis for instruction in South Dakota.”

This section was deleted from the bill, and – along with other changes – passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 50-18.

The Senate Education committee devoted approximately four hours of time listening to testimony and debating HB 1337.  Several additional amendments were made to the bill to address concerns about unintended consequences.  Ultimately, the committee voted to defer the bill to the 41st Legislative Day, effectively stopping the bill for this year.

An attempt was made on the Senate floor to bring back HB 1337 and add it into the bill pertaining to higher education.  I was among the majority of Senators who resisted this effort.  Procedurally, I thought this last-minute move to ignore the work of the Senate Education Committee was ill-advised.

Floor debate addressed the fact that K-12 education is compulsory, while higher education is not and it would be a mistake to combine the two bills. Public K-12 schools are governed by a locally-elected school board, following standards set by the South Dakota Board of Education Standards.  This is a seven-member board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.

State law provides that public school teachers risk losing their certification if they fail to abide by the Professional Code of Ethics which, among other things, requires teachers to “accord just and equitable treatment to every student, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual preference, age, marital status, handicapping condition, national origin, or ethnic background.”

Parents who have questions or concerns about anything being taught in their local school should contact their local school teachers, administrators, and school board. 

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