PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The governor’s office hasn’t decided whether the public should get to see a report on whether inherently divisive concepts, such as Critical Race Theory, are present in South Dakota’s K-12 school systems.
Instead, the governor’s general counsel, Katie Hruska, said in a letter Thursday that “10 additional business days” were still needed on the matter.
This comes after Governor Kristi Noem in April directed the state Department of Education to prepare the report and deliver it no later than July 1.
KELOLAND News requested a copy on July 7. Hruska said the report would be treated as a public record request under South Dakota legal chapter 1-27.
The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee independently requested a copy on Wednesday, July 20.
Mary Stadick Smith, deputy secretary for the department, told lawmakers that day the report was “an internal document” but she left open the possibility they would receive copies.
Governor Kristi Noem issued the executive order on April 5, 2022, directing the department to deliver no later than July 1 “a report detailing any policies, guidelines, websites, best practices, materials, programs, training, or content standards, that promote inherently divisive concepts and identify any necessary administrative or legislative action needed to end the use of all inherently divisive concepts in public education.”
Noem signed the order after somewhat similar legislation that her office introduced, titled “To protect elementary and secondary students from political indoctrination,” failed in the 2022 session.
The state House of Representatives approved a much-amended version of her original bill, but the South Dakota Senate Education Committee narrowly rejected a further-amended version.
KELOLAND News requested by email a copy of the executive-order report on Thursday, July 7. The email went to the governor’s acting press secretary, Tony Mangan, as well as the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Miller, and state Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson. Mangan replied, “I will work on that.”
KELOLAND News by email checked back on Saturday, July 9. Mangan replied, “Sorry…let me check again.” Later on Saturday, he answered, “It is still being reviewed by the Governor’s Office. Hope to have something for you next week.”
KELOLAND News contacted Mangan again Tuesday, July 12, and asked who was reviewing the report, whether Mangan had seen it and the number of pages. Mangan responded, “I asked again about (it) yesterday. Let me double check.”
On July 12, the governor office’s lawyer answered. “Our Office received your request below and will treat this as a public record request. Our Office will respond in accordance with the Public Records Act found at SDCL ch. 1-27,” Hruska wrote.
The Legislature revised much of Chapter 1-27 in 2009. The first section now starts with a broad statement:
“Public records open to inspection and copying.
“Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute, all citizens of this state, and all other persons interested in the examination of the public records, as defined in § 1-27-1.1, are hereby fully empowered and authorized to examine such public record, and make memoranda and abstracts therefrom during the hours the respective offices are open for the ordinary transaction of business and, unless federal copyright law otherwise provides, obtain copies of public records in accordance with this chapter.
“Each government entity or elected or appointed government official shall, during normal business hours, make available to the public for inspection and copying in the manner set forth in this chapter all public records held by that entity or official.“
But the chapter goes on to note, “Each public body shall maintain a file of all letters of denial of requests for records. This file shall be made available to any person on request.”
The chapter doesn’t contain a hard time requirement for reaching a decision; a 2008 law says 10 days and goes on to state that a request that hasn’t been answered in 10 days is considered a denial.
The chapter also contains an immunity clause: “No civil or criminal liability may attach to a public official for the mistaken denial or provision of a record pursuant to this chapter if that action is taken in good faith.”
Then the chapter goes on to list more than 40 exceptions that range from specific to broad, including all personal and professional correspondence.
One of the four pillars of protection that Noem campaigned on in 2018 was “Make state government and the governor’s office more open and transparent.” That 2018 website no longer is generally available.
The Republican governor’s executive order calls for a variety of other actions to be completed by October 1 and describes Critical Race Theory as “a political and divisive ideology that teaches a distorted view of the United States of America and its institutions…through a purely racial lens” that has “no place in our classrooms.”