She knew not everyone would understand or support her actions, but Flandreau High School Junior Arianna Weston still feels strongly that walking-out of school nearly two weeks ago now with dozens of her classmates and hundreds of others across the state, was the right thing to do.
And the walk-out, she said, is just the beginning.
Weston, along with hundreds of other youth from across South Dakota, want to call attention to the state’s new proposed social studies standards — not necessarily what’s been included in those new standards, rather, what was removed. The students, along with many others, are asking state officials to return at least a dozen references to Indigenous Native Americans, tribal, or Oceti Sakowin — the Sioux Nation tribes located in the region, to the recommendations.
The removal of such items prior to being released to the public earlier this summer caught even members of the working group — appointed by the Department of Education to review and update the standards — by surprise.
The public’s reaction had Governor Noem this past week directing the Department of Education to delay the process to consider revisions to the state’s social studies standards up to one year. She issued the following statement:
“The Department of Education changed the working group’s recommendations to the social studies standards significantly, but it is clear to me that there needs to be more public input to bring greater balance and emphasis on our nation’s true and honest history. Following public feedback from several constituencies, it is clear there is more work to be done to get this right.”
Noem added that formal action on the social study standards will be delayed to allow more opportunity for public input, increased legislative engagement, and additional voices to be heard in this discussion.
“I’m hopeful that the state and our governor will see that what they’re trying to do with the education curriculum isn’t a wise choice,” said Weston. “Taking out a culture so prominent in our country and region isn’t sagacious.”
The junior from Flandreau plans to attend one, if not more of the upcoming public hearings on the proposed new standards. State officials rescheduled the first hearing in Aberdeen to a later date and a larger venue off campus over concerns that a large crowd and a long hearing could be distracting to the student body. The first hearing is now scheduled to begin at 9am on October 25 at the Aberdeen Ramkota Convention Center.
That move now has the South Dakota Indian Education Conference that was planned for October 25 rescheduled to a later date.
The second public hearing on the revised social studies standards is scheduled for November 15 at the Instructional Planning Center, 201 E. 38th Street in Sioux Falls. Details for two additional public hearings in Pierre and Rapid City are not yet available.
The ACLU is among those echoing students’ and the appointed panels’ concerns.
“Equal access to learning about Native American heritage and culture in our educational institutions is important. Our history must be accurately represented in every classroom,” said Janna Farley, the organization’s Communications Director.
“The more South Dakota students can learn about our history – the good, the bad and the ugly – and the lessons it can teach us, the better prepared they will be to tackle the inequities and injustices present in our communities.”
Dakota Language Teacher for the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Dusty Beaulieu, agrees.
“Accurate history needs to be accepted and become a normal lesson in school,” said Beaulieu. “We all have our own history and past. ‘We’ need to learn from it and move forward with it. Future generations will need the tools to carry on and one day take care of us.”
Some of the lessons removed from the recommendations include teaching South Dakota students about the tribal nations of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and where to find each of the reservations on a map. Also removed were recommendations that students learn about the resiliency of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate throughout history.
A previous statement given by the Department of Education indicated that, “The department made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public. The draft standards provide a balanced, age-appropriate approach to understanding our nation’s history, government, economy, and geography, including opportunities to teach about the experiences of all peoples.”
Flandreau Superintendent Rick Weber said, “There do seem to be many differences between what the task force came up with and the current working document the Governor’s office put forward. I think any time there are content standard reviews, we should be aware of any changes and how the process works.”
Weber added that there were no ramifications for any of the students that walked-out earlier this month. “They have every right to peacefully walk out on concerns they feel strongly about.”
For more on the standards under review, head to https://doe.sd.gov/contentstandards/review.aspx. Also under review this year are the standards for CTE (Continuing and Technical Education) and Fine Arts.