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South Dakota considers ban on teaching about gender identity
RCAS: Legislation not necessary

South Dakota lawmakers will consider banning public school teaching on gender identity in elementary and middle schools, a push that critics say targets transgender students in the same way some states limit the positive portrayal of homosexuality in the classroom.

The state would be the first in the nation to block instruction on gender identity or gender expression, said Nathan Smith, public policy director at GLSEN, a national group focused on safe schools for LGBTQ students. But the organization recently counted seven states with restrictions on positively portraying homosexuality in health classes, sometimes called "no-promo-homo" laws. The states are Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

"It's maybe a little different in the way that it's crafted and maybe a little different in the way, sort of the population that it targets, but the underlying concerns are the same for us as they would be in ... a traditional 'no-promo-homo' law," Smith said. "We think that it's bad broadly for LGBTQ students in South Dakota."

LGBTQ students in states with such laws are more likely to face assault and harassment at school and get less support from teachers and administrators, according to a GLSEN research brief.

South Dakota's bill would cover public school students from kindergarten through seventh grade. Education Department spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith said in an email that the she's not aware of gender identity being taught in schools.

Rapid City Area Schools doesn't have any courses that address gender identity or gender expression, spokeswoman Katy Urban said in an email. 

"If this bill were to pass, it would have no effect on the Rapid City Area Schools," she said. 

Asked for the school district's position on the bill, Urban replied: "We do not think it is a necessary piece of legislation ... at least as it pertains to the Rapid City Area Schools."

Republican Sen. Phil Jensen, the sponsor, said he has constituents concerned it might become an issue in schools. Jensen said he's worried about teaching children topics that aren't age-appropriate and that students are failing to master the basics.

"I think we need to be focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic," Jensen said.

GLSEN isn't aware of any other states considering a bill like South Dakota's, Smith said. States including California, Massachusetts and Washington have moved in the opposite direction.

Washington included gender identity as an optional topic for districts to teach in recently revised health learning standards. For example, it suggests kindergarten students understand there are many ways to express gender and third graders recognize the importance of treating others with respect regarding gender identity, which is defined as someone's inner sense of their gender.

Officials had heard from teachers, parents and national health experts interested in students understanding and being aware of gender identity, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for Washington's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Washington state office doesn't track how many districts are teaching the new "self-identity" topic, which took effect for the current school year. In California, a 2011 law mandates including disabled and LGTBQ people in history and social science lessons.

Massachusetts lawmakers in 2011 barred discrimination against public school students based on gender identity. Jeff Perrotti, director of the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, said some schools in the state are teaching gender identity and expression in the classroom.

Massachusetts' program, which is part of the state's education department, conducts training for school personnel about how to talk about gender identity with students, faculty and community members. Perrotti said the state's health curriculum framework will likely be updated to include the concept of gender identity.

Mimi Lemay said the Massachusetts district where her 7-year-old transgender son, Jacob, goes to school is improving at including others as parents have pushed the issue. Lemay said a mother last year organized parents to get a basket of books about diversity in local elementary school classrooms, including "I Am Jazz," a picture book about a transgender child co-written by Jazz Jennings, a transgender YouTube personality who has a TLC show.

Teaching about gender identity is critical for transgender children, and it's important for their classmates, who will grow up accepting their peers, said Lemay, who speaks to schools and companies about making them safer spaces for LGBT people.

"Being transgender is innate. It is who you are, and learning about it in school will only make your child more compassionate and empathetic and tolerant," she said. "It's not going to make them transgender, and I think every parent wants a child who is capable of compassion and open-mindedness."

The South Dakota bill could face an obstacle in Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The Republican recently said that he doesn't "know that our standards of education are properly the subject of legislative enactments."

Daugaard in 2016 rejected a bill that would have required transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth. Supporters scuttled a similar proposal last year after he threatened to do it again.

Terri Bruce, a transgender man who fought against the past bills, said the new proposal would have unintended consequences and send a message to transgender children that "they are somehow not human."

top story
Black Hills expo all about the outdoors

Boats and bucks were filling the halls of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Thursday as crews got ready for the 36th annual Black Hills Sports Show and Outdoor Expo.

The three-day event features dozens of vendors and activities catered to those who like to hunt, fish, camp or just like to get outside. The show opens at noon today and closes at 4 p.m. Sunday. 

The expo features three seminars this year, all of which will take place Saturday. Kevin Robling will speak about non-meandering waters and impacts on public use at 11 a.m., Hans Stephenson will give a introduction to fly fishing techniques class at 12:30 p.m. and Brian Bashore will talk early season walleye at 2 p.m.

Black Hills Archery is once again hosting the indoor Archery Shoot Out on Saturday and Sunday. Youth age 8 to 10 start at 9 a.m. Saturday with ages 11 to 13 starting at 2 p.m. On Sunday, ages 14 to 18 start at 9 a.m. and adults will start at 1 p.m. Shooting is free for youth and $15 for adults, but shooters need to register in advance. 

For the kids, there is a 24-foot climbing wall, a pellet gun, BB gun and rubber-band shooting range, a Nerf hunting adventure zone, Strider bike obstacle course and much more to keep them entertained all day long. 

Panel recommends hybrid vehicle fee

PIERRE | Arguing that electric motor and electric-hybrid vehicles wear out streets and roads too, a panel of state lawmakers decided Thursday that new fees should be paid for those vehicles too.

The House Transportation Committee voted 8-3 for legislation offered by its chairwoman, Rep. Mary Duvall, R-Pierre.

She wants state government to charge $100 apiece for electrics and $50 each for hybrids. The premise is owners of electric and hybrid vehicles should pay amounts somewhat comparable to the motor-fuel taxes paid by drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Revenue from motor-fuel taxes in South Dakota goes into a special state account used for street and highway projects. The hybrid fee would be half the electric fee because a hybrid uses a blend of electricity and either gas, diesel or some other hydrocarbon-based fuel.

The House of Representatives could consider HB 1241 as early as Tuesday afternoon. If House members pass it, the legislation would go to the Senate for further action.

“It’s brought as a measure of fairness,” Duvall said.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist testified as a supporter. He said all motor vehicles that travel South Dakota roads do some degree of damage. He said the fees would have produced about $276,000 if they had been in effect.

Seventeen states, including several that share borders with South Dakota, have fees on electrics and hybrids. While those vehicles are small in number now, their ranks will grow, Bergquist said.

Sen. John Wiik, who works at a truck repair shop, said one manufacturer recently introduced a semitractor that operates on electricity and can pull a semitrailer 600 miles.

“I think what we’re doing here is we’re going to start leveling the playing field,” Wiik, R-Big Stone City, said. “We need to figure out what that’s going to do to our roads.”

The one opponent was Matt McCaulley, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He argued a variety of reasons why “the problematic public policy represented by this bill” wouldn’t work.

McCaulley, a former legislator, said South Dakota reported about 850,000 cars registered in 2015. There were 13 to 17 all-electric and 4,366 hybrids.

“Is the juice worth the squeeze?” McCaulley asked.

Duvall in rebuttal said those comments were “an argument of distraction.” She said fees range from $50 to $300 in other states.

“I know this is not going to be the fix-all but this is our foot in the door,” Rep. Michael Clark, R-Hartford, said. “This is a step. It’s not the final answer.”

Richard Anderson / Richard Anderson, Journal staff 

Dante Colicheski, top, of Rapid City Stevens looks to get control of Rapid City Central's Bridger Kraye in the 182-pound match Thursday night at Naasz Gymnasium. Colicheski won the bout 12-2 as the Raiders rolled to a 47-9 win.

Jail employee accused of sexual contact with inmate

A Rapid City woman is accused of having sexual contact with a detainee while she was an employee at the Pennington County Jail.

Kimberly Ann Johnson, 38, has pleaded not guilty to the felony offense, which allegedly occurred at the jail in September and involved 39-year-old federal inmate Marcus Espinosa, according to court records. The offense is punishable by up to two years in prison.

The filing of the criminal charge followed a jail correctional officer’s discovery Sept. 18 of a phone call between Johnson and Espinosa, suggesting they were “in a romantic relationship,” states a Pennington County Sheriff’s Office report obtained from the county courthouse.

Johnson was then a staff assistant at the jail’s medical department, where she had been working for two years, reads the report by Investigator Scott Sitzes.

Jail surveillance video showed Johnson and Espinosa had been alone in an “interview room” for 24 minutes and 46 minutes on separate occasions, according to the six-page document. The sexual contact is believed to be consensual.

The reports says jail administrators found 88 phone calls from the jail to a number later found to be Johnson’s, as well as 13 calls from Johnson’s number to the jail, all made between July and September.

Johnson’s number was a Colorado number, specifically obtained “so suspicions wouldn’t be raised about (Espinosa) calling a local number,” Sitzes wrote.

A search of Espinosa’s cell apparently also yielded sexually explicit letters believed meant for Johnson and some sent by her under an alias.

She was terminated on Sept. 20, according to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail.

As part of Johnson’s employment training, Sitzes wrote, she signed documents that laid out jail policy on relationships between its staff and detainees.

“Establishing a romantic relationship with an inmate, client, detainees, or current probationers or parolees is strictly prohibited … that may create a conflict of interest,” reads a portion of the policy, which the sheriff’s office provided to the Journal.

This is not the first time such an offense has occurred, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Helene Duhamel. It has happened “several times,” she said, adding that jail officials take these reports seriously and investigate them thoroughly. Details on the other cases were not immediately available.

To monitor any inappropriate contact between jail staff and inmates, jail administrators review several types of inmate correspondence and the facility’s surveillance video, Duhamel said. There are a few areas in the jail that legally cannot have video surveillance, she added.

Johnson was arrested Sept. 25 and granted bond on the same day. She wasn’t detained in jail. Her case is ongoing.