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South Dakota opposes Oceti Sakowin school proposal

'I see a system that isn't working and we're looking for something that is working'

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Proponents of creating schools in South Dakota focused on Oceti Sakowin language and culture have two weeks to rework their proposal after Gov. Kristi Noem opposed the initiative.

A Senate committee on Thursday deferred a bill that would create Oceti Sakowin schools that teach Lakota, Dakota and Nakota language and culture. Several teachers are trying to open schools in Native communities that would attempt to address educational achievement gaps among Native students.

"I see a system that isn't working and we're looking for something that is working," said Sage Fast Dog, an educator who is planning to open a school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

Parents testified about how children had struggled with their identity after facing teachers and schoolmates who were insensitive to the culture of the Oceti Sakowin.

Several representatives from Noem's office testified in opposition, saying that the current school system can incorporate cultural programs and that her office is working to improve education in tribal communities. Tiffany Sanderson, an advisor to the governor, pointed to Spanish-immersion schools as an example of alternative curriculums that are allowed.

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Education Secretary Ben Jones said he would be working with the proponents in the coming weeks.

Several other education groups opposed the bill, saying the proposal would take money away from public schools and lacked specifics on who would be overseeing the schools.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, a Democrat from Mission, proposed an amendment to the bill that changed the term "charter" to "community-based" schools. He said that striking the word "charter" from the proposal may make it more palatable to legislators.

The Senate committee gave proponents two weeks to work with the governor's office to present amendments to the bill.

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