Activities group seeks to revamp transgender policy

By Dana Hess

For S.D. Newspaper Association

PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota High School Activities Association’s transgender policy is going through more changes than Bruce Jenner.

At its June meeting, the association board of directors considered a revised policy designed to address concerns expressed during the last legislative session.

“We really kind of focused on what we heard from the Legislature,” said SDHSAA Executive Director Wayne Carney.

During the legislative session the association’s policy governing the eligibility of transgender students to take part in high school sports and activities was targeted by conservative lawmakers. Attempts to pass state laws superseding the association policy were unsuccessful.

The current policy allows students who self-identify as belonging to the opposite sex to compete with that sex if certain criteria are met.

SDHSAA legal counsel Lindsey Riter-Rapp said lawmakers questioned the credentials of the Gender Identification Eligibility Committee that would be used in the current policy. The committee is to include a physician familiar with gender identity health care, a mental health professional and an advocate familiar with gender identity issues and expression issues.

Some lawmakers believed “there may be some bias in their perspective,” Riter-Rapp said

In the revised policy, the eligibility committee has been replaced by an independent hearing officer. Carney said a former judge has agreed to serve in that capacity.

The revised policy states that once a school has forwarded the proper documentation about a transgender student’s request to compete, the hearing officer would review that information as well as communicate with experts, review laws, communicate with the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights and review other information.

The hearing officer’s decision would be passed on to the SDHSAA board of directors, which would make the final decision. Board members asked that the policy be changed to follow current eligibility proceedings with a decision by the executive director and the board hearing any appeal.

This was not the first choice of Carney who clearly didn’t want to have the final say on transgender matters

“This is very unique,” Carney said, “This is way out of my realm.”

During the discussion, board members also asked Riter-Rapp to include a more thorough explanation of the hearing officer’s qualifications.

Board member Sandy Klatt questioned the perception of bias on the part of the association if it was picking the hearing officer.

Carney said the SDHSAA staff hear comments about bias all the time, particularly in dealing with the selection of officials for state tournaments.

“We hear the bias card a lot,” Carney said. “Somebody has to name that person. It has to start somewhere.”

The activities association isn’t the only education group struggling with transgender issues. Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told the board that his group will likely issue a position paper about how to work with schools on this issue.

“The issue comes down to privacy issues” like setting policies for the use of restrooms and locker rooms, Pogany said.

The SDHSAA policy addresses student eligibility and Pogany agreed that it would be best to let each individual school work on its own privacy issues.

“Let the schools decide how they’re going to make those accommodations,” Pogany said.

Throughout the discussion, SDHSAA board members expressed their frustration with the transgender policy

Board member Dan Whalen said he understood the need to have a policy since case law is trending toward giving transgender students a protected status.

“This legal ship has sailed,” Whalen said. “I just hope the name of the ship is not Titanic.”

Whalen said he was concerned about safety issues if a male student who identifies as a female were to compete against female students.

“It becomes a physical issue there,” Whalen said, noting that in football practice coaches are already advised not to line a 140-pound freshman up against a 225-pound senior. He said it would be dangerous for a 150-pound female to play against a 150-pound male.

The revised policy does mention that transgender students would not be allowed to compete if their participation would provide them with a competitive advantage.

Riter-Rapp said safety issues were discussed in the writing of the revised policy.

“It was very hard to come up with language that addressed that,” Riter-Rapp said. “It’s just hard to define.”

At one point, Klatt suggested scrapping the current policy and taking a look at the revised policy at the next meeting.

Noting the heat that the board has taken from the Legislature, Klatt said, “I think we need to get rid of what we have.”

Board member Todd Trask agreed: “I think we need to start over and get it right.”

Aberdeen Central Athletic Director Gene Brownell cautioned against getting rid of the current policy, saying that he knows there are transgender students enrolled in his school district and he needs a policy in place if any of them want to participate in sports.

“We may have to apply this policy in August,” Brownell said, “if they’re coming out for a sport in the fall.”

The current policy will remain in place and Riter-Rapp was directed to continue with her revisions of the new policy and present them at the board’s August meeting.

Vanneman named to Transportation Commission

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has appointed former state legislator Kim Vanneman of Ideal to the South Dakota Transportation Commission.

Vanneman replaces former Commissioner Bob Benson of Winner whose term expired in April.

Vanneman and her husband own and operate a diversified farming operation including row crops, small grains, finishing feeder pigs and a commercial beef cow herd.

Vanneman is a former member of the South Dakota House of Representatives serving from 2008 through 2012. During her time in the legislature, she was appointed to two legislative summer study committees to examine highway funding and Department of Transportation.

State athletic tournaments a no-fly zone for drones

By Dana Hess

For S.D. Newspaper Association

PIERRE, S.D. — If you’re going to a South Dakota High School Activities Association-sanctioned state tournament, leave your drone at home.

At its June meeting, the SDHSAA board of directors passed the first reading of a policy prohibiting unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, from flying at any association-sanctioned state tournament.

“At state events we are not going to allow them,” said SDHSAA Executive Director Wayne Carney. “If you want to use it at your own event, that’s fine.”

Information provided to the board questioned the legality of the use of drones under Federal Aviation Administration rules as well as privacy issues and liability issues in case of an injury.

The policy states that at state tournaments drones will be banned from flying over all fields of play, courts, arena, mats, gym floor or pool as well as spectator and parking areas.

An exception to the policy can be made for the association’s broadcast partners.

Most school districts want statewide transgender policy

By Dana Hess

For S.D. Newspaper Association

PIERRE, S.D. — A survey of member schools shows that the majority of them want the South Dakota Activities High School Association to develop a policy that they can all use when considering the eligibility of transgender students to play high school sports.

“They want a consistent policy,” said SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director James Weaver.

Asked if their school saw a need for a statewide SDHSAA transgender policy, 78 percent of those who responded said yes or yes to some degree.

A resounding 94 percent said no or no to some degree when asked if it should be left to each individual school district to develop its own policy.

Fifty-nine percent of responding schools said no or no to some degree when asked if the Legislature should develop a policy for transgender eligibility.

During a discussion of a revised transgender policy at the SDHSAA June board meeting, executive director Wayne Carney noted the results of the survey.

“The survey said that very clearly: ‘We don’t want 150 different policies,’” Carney said. “They want one.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables make great, affordable summer snacks.

By Carrie Johnson, SDSU Extension

I am extremely lucky in the fact that I currently have a 9-month position with SDSU and I get to spend the summer at home with my four children. However, that means I now need to plan three meals a day instead of one as well as provide snacks throughout the day.

I’ll be honest; the first few weeks we were home together I cheated a bit and didn’t plan well. I treated them to fast food on a number of occasions to make things easier on myself. I quickly realized that there was no way I could continue to afford this and had to come up with a plan.

Plan a menu and keep an inventory of what you have

The first thing I decided to do was make a two-week menu (including snacks). This way, I knew exactly what I needed to get at the store. I checked my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before deciding on meals to see what was already available. I even let the kids help make the menu so there were options I knew they would eat because leftovers do not typically get eaten in our house.

Consider fruits and vegetables for snacks

Snacks are always tricky. If my kids could snack all day long they would. I try to keep a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator all the time. This time of year is great for us because produce is a relatively inexpensive snack option, as long as I only let them eat it in moderation. We had to come up with a snack schedule so they would still get their snack AND eat an actual meal.

Make your own convenience foods

To save even more, I decided to make some convenience foods of my own. For example, I am making homemade pizza instead of buying frozen or take-out. This way I can sneak in some nutrition like making it on whole wheat honey crust which is I personally like the flavor better anyway. I even broke out the mixer my husband bought me for Christmas for the first time and baked some homemade cookies instead of buying store bought.

Stick with the plan

So far we are doing very well at sticking to our menu. I made sure to write it on the dry-erase calendar we use for activities so the kids know what they will be eating throughout the week. Now when they wake up in the morning they look at the calendar to see what they can have that day. Here’s hoping we can continue to save money on our summer food budget.

Leet School: Spanning Time and Space

Leif Arne Holen museum mgr.s. d. mag story jpg


Once a teacher, always a teacher. That’s true of many educators and it also applies to a little country schoolhouse built long ago in Sanborn County.

The Leet School, built in 1883 by Norwegian immigrants near Letcher, was painstakingly deconstructed board by board in 2007. It took two weeks to disassemble and pack the country school into a 40-foot container. The school sent by train to New York City, then by freighter to its new home — the Norwegian Emigration Museum in Hamar, Norway.

Eight years after its relocation, the doors of the Leet School have reopened at the Norway Museum as part of a permanent exhibit. “The school is a wonderful addition to the Norwegian Emigration Museum because it is a true, unbroken link with Norwegian-American pioneers,” says Elyce Rubin, who originally notified the museum about the Letcher school. “It will teach invaluable lessons of self reliance, love of the land and patriotism.”

Rubin, a travel writer, became aware of the school when she came to South Dakota researching pioneer photographer O.S. Leeland. She sent out a request to South Dakotans to contact her if they knew of any information on Leeland. H. Richard Christopher, a Letcher farmer, knew of some Leeland photographs and contacted her in New York. When Rubin visited Christopher in Letcher, she was amazed to find the Leet School on his farm.

When the school closed in 1968, Christopher purchased it at an auction for $115. He moved it to his farm and started collecting items from the school’s past. Over the next several decades Christopher found furniture, textbooks, photographs and assorted school supplies including lunch buckets and a school bell, a coal stove and kerosene lanterns. “The school was my baby,” Christopher told a South Dakota Magazine writer in 2007. The decision to agree to the donation to the museum was difficult, he said. In the end, Christopher agreed donate the school if he could control the classroom’s setup and placement of his memorabilia, which included his own report cards, art and tests. The museum was especially thrilled to receive the school’s contents, which Christopher had carefully displayed in the school.

“I tend to give life and personality to inanimate things. I had dialogue with the books and desks and what these items meant to me. I thought about keeping the teacher’s desk bell and a student desk. But they all seemed to say to me, ‘we all want to stay together,” he said.

Eight years after Christopher made the hard decision to donate the school and its contents, he is traveling to Norway this month for the grand opening of the Leet School, now called the Leet-Christopher Skolehuset. The simple schoolhouse has new life in Norway.

Someone once said that education is a matter of building bridges. In the case of the Leet School, the spans of time and distance are fairly impressive.

The article on Leet school, written by Steven Garnaas, was originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of South Dakota Magazine. The magazine is a bi-monthly print publication featuring the people and culture of our great state. Visit for more information or to subscribe.