After countless court battles stretching over several years, North Dakota at last seems ready to pass a new home schooling law before the close of the 1989 legislative session this spring. House Bill 1421 has already passed the House, and passed the Senate during the week of March 27th. The bill will now go back into a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers’ versions, and then must go before both houses for a final vote.
The bill is still quite restrictive compared to home schooling laws passed in other states in recent years. HB 1421 would remove the current teacher certification requirement, and put in its place a requirement for a high school diploma or GED along with regular monitoring by a certified teacher. Parents who are certified teachers or who pass North Dakota’s national teacher examination are exempt from this monitoring requirement.
The monitoring may be done by either a public or private school certified teacher, and must average one hour per week. Parents must teach the same required subjects as the public schools, for at least four hours per day and 180 days per year. An annual statement must be filed with the school district which must include the names and addresses of the parents and children involved, the qualifications of the parents, a list of the courses to be taught, and “an oath or affirmation that the parent will comply with all provisions of this chapter.”
Annual standardized testing is also required, which may be done in the home but must be administered by a certified teacher. Students who score below the thirtieth percentile must be evaluated for learning disabilities.
Rev. Clinton Birst of the North Dakota Home School Association has been working tirelessly to gain the support of state legislators in Bismarck. His efforts and those of other home schoolers from North Dakota and throughout the country have been successful in making several favorable changes in proposed amendments.
Birst and the N.D.H.S.A. organized a rally at the State Capitol in Bismarck on February 20, 1989, which drew over 150 home schoolers from eleven states. This date had also been widely publicized as a “National Day of Prayer” for North Dakota's home schooling situation. The rally received much favorable press coverage, and helped greatly to establish the presence of home schoolers in the state.
As part of the rally, home schoolers celebrated a “Bismarck Tea Party,” echoing the historic cry of American colonists for representation in government, and drawing parallels to the unfairness of North Dakota's law, which was drafted without any input from the home schoolers it controlled. The home schoolers flooded the offices of legislators with hundreds of teabags with the attached message: “The consent of the governed for home schooling, too!!”
On the day following the rally, Birst arranged a meeting with HSLDA’s Mike Farris and the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee of the North Dakota Legislature. During this meeting, Farris was able to convince the chairman to amend the bill to permit certified private school teachers, instead of only public school teachers, to monitor home school programs. The bill had previously required that the monitoring teacher be an employee of the public school district. This change was made to the bill, and has helped to make it far more acceptable to North Dakota home schoolers.
Passage of the bill could potentially resolve the many home school cases still in court and on appeal, and make it possible for home schoolers in North Dakota to home school legally, and without the fear of prosecution that has plagued them for so long. We are indeed thankful to God for this answer to prayer!