Removing Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings (OSEU) and Native American topics from the South Dakota Department of Education’s content standards and assembling a second committee to recommend entirely new revisions likely violates federal and constitutional law, the ACLU of South Dakota said in a letter this week to Gov. Kristi Noem and members of the Board of Education Content Standards Committee.
The initial standards, developed by a nearly 50-person working group, provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to feel welcome, respected and encouraged to receive education relevant to their culture, similar to what white students already receive within South Dakota’s public school system. By removing OSEU and Native American references, the Department of Education likely violates federal Equal Protection and First Amendment provisions of the United States Constitution. It also likely violates Article VIII, Section 1 of the South Dakota Constitution, which guarantees its citizens, including Indigenous students, the right to schools that are “equally open to all” and requires the DOE to “adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”
“The removal of recommended OSEU and Native American topics from the content standards deprives students of their right to receive information and ideas and racially discriminates or has the effect of racially discriminating against Native Americans in South Dakota,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of South Dakota legal director. “It also censors information provided to students based on race.”
Convening a second content standards working group to start the process over again, however, will not correct the constitutional violations created by the Department of Education unless the second group includes the same amount or more OSEU and Native American topics in their revisions to the content standards.
“Equal access to learning about Native American heritage and culture in our educational institutions is important,” Amiotte said. “The ACLU supports the protection of students’ First Amendment right to receive information as part of their education, including education on Oceti Sakowin culture, heritage and history. In conjunction with this effort, the ACLU seeks to preserve the Equal Protection rights of All South Dakotans and its Indigenous students, citizens and teachers under both the state Constitution and U.S. Constitution. Our history must be accurately represented in every classroom.”
A copy of the ACLU’s letter is below.
About the ACLU of South Dakota
Based in Sioux Falls, 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.