Public outcry over proposed changes to social studies standards for Michigan’s public schools – changes that include deletion of references to gay rights, climate change, Roe v. Wade and the removal of “democratic” from “core democratic values – has forced the Michigan Department of Education to delay final decisions on the standards.
The education department announced Friday that the public comment period, which had been scheduled to end June 30, will be extended to September 30. Public comments also will continue to be accepted online through the end of September, with a second round of public hearings will be held in August and September.
“With the great level of interest in the development of the revised Social Studies standards, we are extending the public input time in order to continue reaching across the state for additional comment,” Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said in a news release Friday afternoon, about 24 hours before the public comment period was to end.
The controversy swirling around the draft of revised standards began when Bridge Magazine published an article June 12 chronicling changes to the standards that had been made by a focus group that included several prominent Michigan conservatives, including Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, a candidate for governor. The focus group did not include any Democratic legislators or representatives from any left-leaning organizations.
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Following that article, public hearings that had been drawing less than a half-dozen people swelled to more than 200; online comments exploded from a total of about 200 before the article to more than 2,000 one week later.
Linda Forward, director of the office of educational improvement in the state education department, said the department is happy that there is large public interest in the standards. She describes the meetings as “passionate and civil.”
The new standards must be approved by the State Board of Education to take the place of current standards. Board members, who are elected in statewide elections, are split, four Democrats and four Republicans. The standards appeared to be headed to a showdown on the board, with the Democratic members voicing opposition to the changes.
The standards were initially scheduled to be discussed at the August state board meeting, but that will now likely be delayed until the extended public comment period has concluded. Democratic board member Pamela Pugh told Bridge last week that there was “no rush” to finalize the standards.
The dates and locations of the future public hearings are still being finalized, with plans to include sites in the Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan, West Michigan, metro Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, according to an education department release.
Input can be provided online through September 30 by going to www.michigan.gov/mde and clicking the “Request For Public Comment” box to access the proposed draft version of the Social Studies standards and offer online comments.