SD Republican senators reject K-12 ‘divisive concept’ ban

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A Republican-controlled South Dakota Senate committee on Thursday dismissed Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to ban public K-12 school curricula that compels people to feel “discomfort” based on their race.

The Senate Education Committee voted 4-3 to reject the proposal. The move, made by three Republicans and a Democrat, was a major blow to Noem’s proposal, which she had touted as a repudiation of critical race theory. It could still be resurrected with widespread support in the full Senate.

The bill’s text makes no mention of critical race theory — an issue that has in the last year morphed from an obscure academic discussion point on the left into a political rallying cry on the right. Instead, it lays out a list of “divisive concepts,” including that individuals are “inherently responsible” for past actions or “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account” of their race.

The Republican governor has this year pushed a pair of bills, applying separately to universities and K-12 schools, as a way to ensure “students are not taught that they are responsible for (the) different actions of our ancestors.”

The Senate committee this week listened to hours of debate, both from those who championed the bills and critics who say they would squelch classroom discussions on racism and history.

“Racism is alive and well in this state, and I think it would be more beneficial to talk about that,” said Democratic Sen. Troy Heinert.

Republican senators opposed to the K-12 school bill argued that it was unnecessary because Noem can already influence classroom lessons by setting the state’s educational standards. Other lawmakers warned against the Legislature and governor intruding into classroom discussions.

“I see government looking over the shoulders of teachers,” Republican Sen. V.J. Smith said of the bill.

On Tuesday, the committee narrowly advanced the bill applying to public universities, and it was set for a vote in the Senate next week.

It would ban universities from making students or faculty members adhere to the “divisive concepts” or promoting them in required trainings. But it carves out an exception for academic courses.

Stephen Groves
Stephen Groves
Stephen covers Congress in Washington.