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Lead-Deadwood School Board Considers Banning Controversial Classroom Displays and Divisive Concepts

To protect students and staff from controversy, the Lead-Deadwood school board is giving first reading this afternoon (Tuesday, May 10, 4 p.m. MDT, high school cafeteria) to the following draft policy:

LDSD Policy on Classroom Displays and Decorations

Materials and decorations displayed by school employees on district property will not represent any controversial subject matter or political or religious messages. Such materials include, but are not limited to signs, posters, fliers, banners, flags, or decorations, including images, symbols or text.

Neither the United States flag nor the flag of any state of the Union, in an unaltered form, are considered controversial for the purposes of this policy.

Materials, symbols, etc. that are temporarily displayed in the classroom or other instructional areas will be exempt from this policy as long as they are displayed as part of a lesson based on the approved curriculum and content standards, and as long as they are school appropriate, grade level appropriate, relevant and significant to the applicable lesson. This clause shall in no way exempt the employee or the school district from any laws or policies prohibiting the teaching of divisive concepts.

Materials displayed on school property can be reasonably construed as endorsed or permitted by the district and may be removed by the principal, superintendent, or designee if they are determined to be in violation of this policy.

Controversial materials include:

  • Materials endorsing a candidate, platform, position, political party, or slogan
  • Concepts, images, slogans, or phrases that have appeared in the media and have been associated with controversy or a movement or cause
  • Concepts, images, slogans, or phrases that a reasonable person would deem offensive, obscene, or inflammatory

If an employee feels that this policy is being unfairly enforced, the LDSD staff grievance procedure will serve as the appeal process. If a district employee, student, or patron wishes to report a suspected violation of this policy, they must follow this procedure. Report to the building principal, and the building principal will make a determination within 5 school days whether the object in question is in violation of the policy. At that point the building principal will either have the employee remove the object or notify the employee that a complaint has been made and that the object in question does not violate this policy. The building principal will report back to the complainant on the status of the complaint. An appeal of the principal’s determination by the complainant must be submitted in writing to the superintendent within 5 school days of notification of the building principal’s determination. The next level of appeal beyond the superintendent is to the board of education and must be submitted in writing within 10 days of notification of the superintendent’s determination [Lead-Deadwood school board, draft policy on classroom displays and decorations, updated 2022.05.06, in board agenda packet, 2022.05.10].

A teacher in the Lead-Deadwood system says this policy has been prompted by concern from multiple teachers who find this sign controversial and off-putting:

Controversial sign targeted by Lead-Deadwood school district draft policy, tweeted by Lenessa Keehn, 2022.05.09.
Controversial sign targeted by Lead-Deadwood school district draft policy, tweeted by Lenessa Keehn, 2022.05.09.

A former teacher in the district cites the following sign, taken from a suicide prevention course previously promoted by the South Dakota Department of Education and posted by a school counselor, as another target of the draft policy:

Dr. Bree Oatman, tweet, 2022.05.09.
Dr. Bree Oatman, tweet, 2022.05.09.

Safe spaces, respecting everyone’s rights, and welcoming all may thus be deemed too controversial by the Lead-Deadwood school board. Logically we may assume that declaring Lead-Deadwood schools dangerous spaces where some people’s rights are not respected and some people are not welcome is uncontroversial and, apparently, factual.

Also on this afternoon’s Lead-Deadwood school board agenda is a resolution prohibiting the advancement of “inherently divisive concepts”:

WHEREAS, the School District is appreciative of the current debate in society over what may or may not constitute the advancement of certain ideas and concepts that may be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;

AND WHEREAS, the School District considers it prudent to adopt a policy prohibiting the advancement of “inherently divisive concepts”.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that no administrator, teacher, or employee of the Lead-Deadwood District shall take or support any action directed towards the students of the district that advance “inherently divisive concepts” including, but not limited to the following concepts:

(i) that one race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior to another race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin;

(ii) that an individual should be discriminated against or adversely treated solely or partly on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity , or national origin;

(iii) that an individual’s moral character is inherently determined by his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin;

(iv) that an individual, by virtue of the individual ‘s race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;

(v) that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, is responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin; or

(vi) that meritocracy or traits, such as a strong work ethic, are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex [Lead-Deadwood school board, draft resolution, agenda packet, 2022.05.10].

The six examples of “inherently divisive concepts” are copied verbatim from Governor Kristi Noem’s Executive Order 2022-02, which she issued one month ago under the false pretense of banning “critical race theory” from South Dakota’s classrooms. The six verboten concepts are also part of House Bill 1337, the thought-control bill the Governor was unable to push through the Legislature this Session.

The policy banning rainbows and Black Lives Matter posters and the resolution banning divisive concepts are toward the bottom of the board’s agenda. Meeting starts this afternoon at 4 p.m. Mountain in the Lead-Deadwood high school cafeteria.


  1. Amy B. 2022-05-10

    What the hell kind of teacher finds a rainbow poster letting kids know they are in a safe place…. a place they can be themselves without fear…. as controversial and offputting?? I would be afraid for my children to be around a teacher like that.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-10

    The hell kind, obviously. Or is Lead-Deadwood declaring it’s the Black Hills kind?

    Not All Are Welcome—let’s put that on the tourism ads.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-05-10

    1) middle schools should be eliminated.
    2) high schools should insist on business casual except on Fridays.
    3) girls and boys, women and men in public schools should be instructed in separate classrooms
    4) school boards should have an elected representative from the high school student population
    5) teachers must be union members
    6) districts should have the flexibility to experiment with curricula, including year-round sessions
    7) American Indian languages should meet the world language requirement

  4. O 2022-05-10

    This policy defines confederate flags contained in state flags as not controversial? Do those states know that?

    Would I have to remove my Slytherin house banner from my Hogwart’s Houses display?

  5. P. Aitch 2022-05-10

    Remind anyone of our Vietnam Protests and the banning of the Peace Sign from South Dakota classrooms and schools?
    Sociologists say the “protest gene” skips a generation and then reappears stronger than ever.
    My kids could care less about protesting for the rights of others, but the grandkids are full bore radical.
    Makes an OG proud!

  6. cathy weiss 2022-05-10

    Does that mean they have to take down the “In God We Trust” banners that Noem forced on the schools?

  7. mike from iowa 2022-05-10

    Can Natives cancel Deadwood’s lease?

  8. Dicta 2022-05-10

    Did someone just suggest teaching boys and girls separately? Is there some peer reviewed literature that I’m not privy to that suggests this leads to better learning outcomes, or are we just continuing to go full tilt on the handmaiden stuff after SCOTUS news?

  9. bearcreekbat 2022-05-10

    I note that the language in the opening paragraph of this proposed policy states: “Materials and decorations displayed by school employees. . . .” This looks like it does not cover students or non-employees, hence students should be able to display rainbows, political material, and other “controversial” matters, absent some other prohibitive policy. And SCOTUS precedent (which incidently has now become much less reliable) in Tinker v. Des Moines protects students’ free speech from hostile school board.

  10. O 2022-05-10

    bearcreekbat, this line from the Tinker decision made me reflect about the whole Social Studies/Education muzzle being foist on schools by our MAGA friends: The Court held that for school officials to justify censoring speech, they “must be able to show that [their] action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”

    In the 70’s the US was willing to go through some discomfort for important conversations — even in schools. I would argue THAT made America great.

  11. mike from iowa 2022-05-10

    Didn’t Noem nothing force schools to place dog bless above school entrances?

  12. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-10

    Lead and Deadwood, now consolidated as a school district, were rough and tumble schools back in the day…Principals and teachers were known to settle their differences with fistfights in the ally behind the High School. Kids had to fight their way through the various ethnic neighborhoods on their way to and from school. The divisive issues were often freedom for Croatia, independence for Montenegro, representation for the Federation of Western Miners, which group of kids could cruise on which streets. Everybody just dusted themselves off and got on with their lives. A unique community. Governor Noem makes mountains out of mole hills and just exacerbates misunderstanding.

  13. bearcreekbat 2022-05-10

    O, I agree with your assessment on Tinker and the 70’s. Let’s hope the new radical conservative majority on the SCOTUS is not yet ready to revisit Tinker. After all, there is no explicit language in the Constitution protecting speech in “schools.”

    Like the right of privacy that protection must be implied from the language in the 1st and 14th Amendments, but the 1st only restricts “Congress” not “Schools” or even “States” for that matter – oh, oh another potential precedent for repair: it might just be part of this new radical agenda to reverse all those decisions questioning the wisdom of United States v. Cruikshank (1876), and reinstate virtually unlimited power to the individual States.

  14. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-10

    BCB–I’d prefer to let Cruikshank stand. The states had virtually unlimited power back in the days of the Articles of Confederation…chaos resulted and would again. Let’s not repeat our History.

  15. bearcreekbat 2022-05-10

    Arlo, I should have referenced Gitlow v. New York (1925), which appears to be the 1st SCOTUS case holding the the 1st Amendment limits State power as well as federal power. I should have been clear and written “it might just be part of this new radical agenda to reverse all those decisions like Gitlow v. New York, and reinstate virtually unlimited power to the individual States.”

    Although the holding in Cruikshank was much narrower by only deciding that the 14th Amendment enforcement provision did not reach private conduct, I referenced it based on dicta in Chief Justice Waite’s opinion for the Court:

    . . . the case is also important in First Amendment jurisprudence for the statements made by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite regarding the First Amendment freedom of peaceable assembly.

    Consistent with such decisions as those in Barron v. Baltimore (1833), which the Court issued prior to adoption of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Waite sought to limit the rights of national citizenship by distinguishing it from state citizenship.

    Waite said First Amendment applied only to national government

    He argued that the right to peaceable assembly was a natural right that preceded the adoption of the Constitution, rather than a right granted by it. For Waite the First Amendment prohibited Congress from abridging the right to assemble but “was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens, but to operate on the National government alone.”

  16. Jeannie Bush 2022-05-10

    Divisive concepts . . . isn’t that how we learn to debate? Isn’t that why we have lawyers on each side of an issue? Don’t we all need to learn how to handle a divisive concept for every walk of life: marriage, enjoyment, neighborhoods, cities, government and on and on. Sorry, I thought going to school was about learning. Silly me.

  17. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-10

    Ms. Bush–Governor Noem was a cheerleader, not a debater. Still is.

  18. CK 2022-05-11

    Sounds like Wessington Springs is having similar issues. Two super Catholic school board members and a Noem-transplant superintendent seem to be the proponents behind the issue.

    Sad, as Wessington Springs always seemed to be a welcoming open-minded community. I am sad for my friends there.

  19. Isaiah 2022-05-12

    The propaganda is growing old for 90% of Americans that don’t want to be baptized into the Great Awokening.

    Please leave your rainbow flags, BLM flags, political posters, and left-wing agitprop at home. Activism has no place in school.

    I will hold right-wing folks to the same standard. They also can leave the NRA posters, Support The Troops, Thin Blue Line, religious symbols, you name it at home.

    If you can’t do this, go teach for a private school that shares your religion, or get involved in politics to influence curriculum and standards at government schools.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-13

    Is it really indoctrination for a counselor to let students know that if they are being bullied, they can come in and talk about it and not face discrimination or harassment because of their personal characteristics?

  21. Jim 2022-05-14

    Indoctrination depends on what side you are on. Let’s be honest. We are all on a side. The concept of a safe place is a good idea. How to implement a safe place may not be. How do you find someone that is not jaded or slanted towards their own beliefs and values? Why have we made someones sexuality a public issue? Then try to force others to accept it. No, one should be harassed or alienated. You cannot expect everyone to embrace everyone’s personal beliefs. What you should be able to expect is the right to not be harmed. The school system in not a place to impose your beliefs on another. Let’s go after the root of the problem not the symptoms. Our kids are hurting and lost and don’t need guidance from an adult that is in the same predicament.

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