House panel passes science bill despite critics from K-12
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A bill that would let South Dakota teachers decide how much skepticism to inject into lessons on scientific topics such as climate change and the Big Bang passed its first legislative test on Wednesday.
The House Education Committee voted 8-6 to endorse the bill, sending it to the chamber’s floor. Republican Sen. Phil Jensen, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the measure would provide protections from termination to teachers who want to help students learn to think critically.
“Now, to those who worship at the altar of global warming, it is perhaps unnerving that their dogma may be challenged,” Jensen said. “Please support House Bill 1270 so that our students can learn how to think, not just what to think. To do less is simply indoctrination.”
The bill says teachers can’t be stopped from helping students understand, analyze or critique “in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses” of scientific information presented in classes aligned with South Dakota’s educational content standards. The standards set expectations for “what students should know and be able to do” at the end of each grade, according to the Department of Education’s website.
Representatives of school boards, administrators and teachers opposed the bill. Education Department official Brett Arenz said South Dakota teachers have the knowledge, expertise and academic freedom they need to teach science and promote critical thinking.
“This bill is not an academic freedom bill. It is about prohibiting local school boards and administrators from carrying out the curriculum that these local boards adopt,” Arenz said.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said earlier Wednesday that she hadn’t reviewed the bill.
Mirror legislation failed during the 2017 legislative session in the House Education Committee after passing through the Senate. Critics raised worries then that such a bill would embolden some teachers to start presenting creationism in their classrooms.
But Jensen disputed the concerns, saying creationism wouldn’t be allowed to be taught because it’s not covered in the state’s content standards. Educators who are teaching within the standards are on “safe ground,” Jensen said.
“But if you go off and you start teaching creationism, then you’re on shaky ground and you could be fired, and rightfully so,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Erin Healy, an opponent of the measure, said she’s worried that passing it would set up school districts for legal liability.
“That’s not going to help our kids. That’s not going to help them get the education that they need,” she said. “It’s just going to hurt our school districts.”