North Dakota is consistently ranked among the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to homeschooling. In fact, it wasn’t even legal until 1989. Since that time, things have certainly improved, but as someone who is an advocate of homeschooling, I’m of the opinion that there’s still a lot of work to do.
A key piece of legislation needed to provide a wider range of opportunities for homeschooling families is being sponsored by Rep. Dan Johnston (R – District 24). In addition to being a legislator, Johnston is also a homeschool dad. During the 2017 Legislative Session, he was a key factor in helping Rep. Christopher Olson’s HB 1428 pass — against all odds — which allows parents of homeschoolers the same opportunity to opt their children out of state testing that public school parents have.
This time around, Olson chose not to run for re-election and Rep. Johnston is leading the way with HB 1052. The purpose of the bill was recently explained in the North Dakota Homeschool Association’s newsletter “The Eclectic Report” by their Office Administrator, Theresa Deckert:
“The purpose of the bill is to address the 2007 Attorney General’s opinion which dealt with parental qualifications and who can ‘supervise’ home education. This ruling has caused a number of issues over the years.
“This summer the NDHSA approached the Governor’s Office about a new ruling. Governor Burgum’s Office staff requested a meeting for us with one of the assistant Attorney Generals. After reviewing the original opinion and looking at newer legislation, it was determined that the best way to address the opinion is legislatively.
“The bill will change the first section of the home education statute referring to definitions.
“This bill will make it clear that a legal guardian may home school rather than be assumed. It will also clarify that a parent is the one who determines what methods and manner of instruction are employed. This will allow a parent to use a tutor, choose an online program or be part of a collaborative learning situation such as Classical Conversations. Hopefully these changes will clarify this for both parents and school districts.
“The Attorney General’s office asked that we have the Department of Public Instruction look at the bill, as well, to make sure it was clear. The word delivery was added at their suggestion. They support the changes we are seeking.”
The 2007 Attorney General’s opinion that Deckert is referring to can be seen here. In it, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem expressed his view that:
“… only a parent, qualified under N.D.C.C. §§ 15.1-23-03 and 15.1-23-06, may provide home-based instruction to that parent’s child. With respect to home-based instruction, North Dakota law does not permit a parent to supervise the education of that parent’s child by any other individual.”
As mentioned by Deckert, the reason that Stenehjem’s opinion was requested in the first place hinged on the use of the word “supervised” in North Dakota’s existing statute. At first glance, it would appear that this would allow parents of homeschooled children to permit others to provide the actual instruction for their children. But after reviewing legislative history and intent, Stenehjem drew his conclusion that this is not permitted under the law.
As you can see, if Rep. Johnston’s bill passes, it will open up a variety of opportunities for homeschool families across the state. For example, suppose a parent desires to strengthen a specific content area for their child. They would be free to use a tutor to provide that instruction. With the advancement of technology, other parents might choose from a number of on-line options now available to students across the country. These opportunities are technically not legal under the current law.
In response to a request for comment, Rep. Johnston told The Minuteman:
“This legislation represents sound public policy. It correctly affirms the right of parents to direct the education of their child and reinforces educational choice in North Dakota.”
And that is the key— “choice”. This is exactly what parents across North Dakota need when it comes to the education of their children. This bill has the potential to be the most impactful piece of legislation we’ve seen for many homeschool families in North Dakota. In fact, it may just be one of the great pieces of education legislation— period.
We ask that you contact your representatives and ask them to support HB 1052 when it comes to the floor during the 2019 Legislative Session.