Private schools in North Dakota see the importance, difficulties of providing digital literacy education

HB 1398 was introduced by Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson. “The 21st century workforce needs 21st century skills,” Lefor said.

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Gov. Doug Burgum, seated at center, on March 24, 2023, signed House Bill 1398, requiring K-12 public and nonpublic schools to provide instruction in computer science and cybersecurity. Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of public instruction, is to Burgum’s right.
Contributed / Gov. Doug Burgum's Office

BISMARCK — Computer science and cybersecurity have become frequent and widespread topics among educators since Gov. Doug Burgum signed House Bill 1398, a bill requiring K-12 public and nonpublic schools to provide both.

HB 1398 was introduced by Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson. Burgum signed it on March 24 in a Capitol ceremony attended by Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of public instruction, and several legislators.

“The 21st century workforce needs 21st century skills,” Lefor told the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 14.

Lefor continued, “To ensure North Dakota remains competitive in national markets, we need every adult worker, jobseeker, and student graduating with at least basic knowledge of computers and how modern systems communicate.”

Before its passage, more than 50 people, groups and offices across North Dakota submitted testimony in support of HB 1398.


Among them was Michael Heilman, executive director for North Dakota Small Organized Schools, who advised the Senate Education Committee that digital literacy education offers many benefits but also drawbacks.

“There is no question that the availability of computer science and specifically cybersecurity education is important,” Heilman wrote to the committee. “What we struggle with, especially our small schools, is finding the staff and the time to add another requirement.”

In general, private schools are significantly smaller than public schools in student population, staff, and funding, making it more difficult for those schools to meet increased state educational requirements.

Todd Benson, superintendent of Shiloh Christian School, a K-12 private school in Bismarck, echoed this sentiment in an interview.

“I’m probably in the majority here, on the education side, when I say less regulation is best,” Benson said. “When they try to drill down (by adding requirements), that does create a hardship on the school because then we have to provide the resources.”

In an effort to lessen the financial burden, HB 1398 provides that the state superintendent of public instruction shall provide grants of up to $300,000 to nonprofit entities, including private schools. The grants could be used for stipends and training for teachers of computer operations and cybersecurity until the year 2025.

In interviews, officials at other private schools across the state agreed that digital literacy education is becoming increasingly important for their students.

Jeff Trumbauer, principal of St. John’s Academy, a K-8 private school in Jamestown, said the academy emphasizes moral and ethical instruction in younger students as a foundation for digital literacy.


“We want to teach them the language of technology,” Trumbauer said. “But we also want the students to understand the power that’s there, and how to utilize it properly.”

Denise Wolfgram, principal of Martin Luther School, a private elementary school in Bismarck, said in an interview that the importance of digital literacy education is “comparable to learning how to use a pencil.”

Isabelle Ballalatak is a reporting intern with the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

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