North Dakota
North Dakota

March 14, 2007

Grand Forks Challenges Home Education Supervisors

In November 2006, Home School Legal Defense Association assisted two member families in Grand Forks after school officials asserted that the fathers did not qualify as supervisors of their respective home education programs. In both families, the fathers had a baccalaureate degree but worked full-time outside the home while the mothers provided the majority of the instruction to their children. As a result, the school district contended that since the mothers did not have baccalaureate degrees, their programs had to be monitored by a state-certified teacher.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black responded to the families’ request for assistance and wrote letters to the school officials. Black explained that both fathers were qualified to serve as supervisors of their home education programs without personally conducting all of the instruction. Section 15.1-23-01 of the North Dakota Century Code defines home education as “a program of education supervised by a child’s parent, in the child’s home, in accordance with the requirements of this chapter.” The fathers were supervising the programs of education. The statute does not state that the supervisor must personally provide all of the instruction or even any of the instruction.

Contrary to HSLDA’s analysis of this legal issue, on February 1, 2007, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion stating that state law “does not permit a parent to supervise education provided to that parent’s child by another individual.” The attorney general acknowledged that the language in the homeschool law “creates an ambiguity.” He went on to say that the statute is not clear whether a parent must supervise the education by providing the instruction directly to the student or whether the parent may supervise someone else who is doing so. In the end, he based his unfavorable opinion on inferences he drew from testimony of witnesses at the legislative hearings for the original homeschool law in 1989.

The attorney general’s opinion is not law. However, it is likely that the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and local school districts will follow this opinion. HSLDA remains prepared to represent in legal proceedings any of our member families who wish to challenge the attorney general’s opinion or who are prosecuted by their local school district because of this monitoring issue.

Each instance in which the teaching parent is not also the supervisor of the home education program must be analyzed individually to determine whether the intent of the law is being met. Accordingly, families considering the same or similar arrangements for teaching their children should consult with HSLDA prior to doing so.

In the case involving the Grand Forks families, both of them decided not to challenge the attorney general's opinion in view of the fact that they are military families and short-term residents of North Dakota.