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Julie Frye-Mueller


PIERRE | A state lawmaker wanted the Legislature to require public schools provide instruction on South Dakota’s Native American history, culture and government.

But the House Education Committee rejected the idea Monday after a state Department of Education official spoke against it. The panel voted 8-4 to kill HB 1253.

Deputy Secretary Mary Stadick Smith reminded the panel of the fable in which the tortoise beat the hare. She asked the panel to let the department go forward “slowly but surely.”

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, said tribal people from Sinte Gleska University and K-12 schools in his area contributed to the department’s Oceti Sakowin teachings.

Bordeaux said he was told years ago a statewide mandate wasn’t necessary because the standards already were being taught.

“I kind of feel like things are going, but maybe not fast enough,” he said.

Native American students in the Rapid City school district are dropping out at a 50 percent rate, according to Bordeaux. He noted that Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, talked in his State of the State speech Jan. 9 about the need for South Dakota to invest more in students.

Stadick Smith said the department has an Oceti Sakowin website and a state government board aligned tribal standards and social studies standards. The department assigned another group last year to coordinate tribal standards and science standards, she said.

That proved more difficult and the group decided lesson plans would be a better approach, she said. “We’re already in the process,” Stadick Smith said. “We recognize it will take time to weave these standards into our classrooms.”

“I’m not really sure what weaving is," Bordeaux said. 

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Rep. Timothy Johns asked Stadick Smith if statewide exams would be adjusted to reflect the tribal content. She told him there hadn’t bee any discussion.

“We do not test in the area of social studies right now,” she said.

Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller, Rapid City, asked what would come next if the Legislature adopted the requirement. Frye-Mueller said South Dakota students as a whole have scored only in the high 40s, of a possible 100, on their reading and math proficiency assessments.

“Maybe there’s the basics kids need to be learning first,” Frye-Mueller said.

Rep. Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, said he wouldn’t dismiss social studies or tribal studies as unimportant.

Frye-Mueller agreed tribal studies could be an asset, but she again noted that “the basics are what we really need to be focused on.”

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