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Kristi Noem signs executive order aimed at curtailing critical race theory in state schools

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday signed an executive order she said was aimed at banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 state schools. 

The order tasks the state Department of Education with checking educational materials for “divisive concepts” based on race. 

“Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms,” Noem said in a statement. “Our children will not be taught that they are racists or that they are victims and they will not be compelled to feel responsible for the mistakes of their ancestors. We will guarantee that our students learn America’s true and honest history – that includes both our triumphs and our mistakes.”

Noem’s executive order comes after the state Senate Education Committee led by Republicans rejected a similar bill she proposed 4-3 in early March. The committee passed a similar bill related to the state’s university system. It bans teaching in trainings that would make people feel “discomfort” based on race. 

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Noem touted the executive order as restricting critical race theory but the term isn’t actually mentioned in the order and the order is limited to the Department of Education. School districts make much of their own curricula.

The bill drew hours of debate this year, both from those who championed it as a repudiation of critical race theory and critics who said it would silence and sanitize the most painful truths of U.S. history.

The Placentia Yorba Linda School Board in California discusses a proposed resolution to ban teaching critical race theory in schools.

Democratic Sen. Troy Heinert, who voted against the bill last month, said he was worried it would perpetuate racism and could water down the teaching of historical atrocities against South Dakota Native Americans in the state. He is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. 

A student holds up a sign against banning CRT holds up a sign as members of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School Board meet in Placentia on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

The ACLU of South Dakota accused Noem of “skirting” the legislative process with the executive order. 

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota had criticized Noem’s bill as unnecessary but didn’t immediately comment on her executive order. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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