Gov. Kristi Noem’s bill that would have censored classroom discussion on race in K-12 public schools was killed by the Senate Education Committee last month.
Despite the legislature’s unwillingness to codify Noem’s desired policy, Noem today signed an executive order directing the Department of Education to accomplish her goal of censoring classroom discussion of what she calls “divisive concepts.”
The ACLU of South Dakota opposes Noem’s executive order. The First Amendment protects academic freedom and the right to share ideas, including the right of individuals to receive information and knowledge. Instead of encouraging learning, Noem’s executive order will have a chilling effect on academic freedom.
“This executive order is overly-broad and opens the door to a wide variety of interpretations that could censor free speech and important discussions about systemic racism,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Students deserve to have a free and open exchange about our history — not one that erases the legacy of discrimination and lived experiences of Black, Indigenous and other people of color. All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and complete history in schools, free from censorship like this.”
Noem’s executive order further politicizes the already fraught and significantly delayed cycle of setting education standards which has been condemned by Indigenous South Dakotans, educators and civil rights groups like the ACLU of South Dakota. That Noem has skirted the legislative process with an executive order is also troubling.
“The ability to discuss and debate ideas, even those that some find uncomfortable, is a crucial part of our democracy,” Jonelis said. “Our elected officials had lengthy debates about Noem’s legislation during session and ultimately voted to kill the bill. By coming back with an executive order that is strikingly similar to her original bill is a subversion of our entire democratic process.”
About the ACLU of South Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.