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Judge approves new social studies standards

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An administrative law judge has cleared the way for new standards on teaching social studies in Minnesota public schools.

Judge Barbara Neilson mediated a dispute between the state Department of Education and a group made up mostly of conservatives who said the standards reflect an "anti-American" and liberal bias. The group also said the standards remove the idea of God-given rights from the discussion, call the United States a democracy rather than a republic and ignore the concept of "American exceptionalism" — the idea that the U.S. holds a unique place and role in human history.

On each point, Neilson ruled that the new standards are "needed and reasonable" and can be adopted for the 2013-2014 school year, the Star Tribune reported Monday.

"It is inevitable that there will be disagreement between people about the content that should be included in academic standards, particularly where, as here, the subject matter involves such controversial topics as economics, history, government and 'human' geography," the judge wrote. She said these are topics about which "reasonable minds may be divided."

Charlene Briner, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the department plans to put the standards into effect for the coming school year.

"We're pleased the judge took time to review everything carefully," Briner said. "I think it reflects the thoughtful and diligent process that we used to develop and revise the standards. It reflects the input of literally hundreds of Minnesotans who weighed in during the process. We believe the time involved, and their input, made the standards stronger."

Critics of the new standards included a number of Republican legislators and were led by Education Liberty Watch, whose president, Karen Efrem, said they're considering whether to appeal.

"We are very sad that the judge ignored the concern of so many people — legislators, attorneys and experts," she said.

The social studies standards outline the concepts students must master. Minnesota's existing standards grew out of the political battle over the old standards, known as the Profile of Learning, and break down subjects into four areas — history, geography, economics and citizenship.

The proposed new standards cover the same topics, but are considerably longer and less acceptable to conservatives than the 2004 standards.

Briner said the next steps are to submit the rules to the secretary of state and to Gov. Mark Dayton to be signed into law.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.