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Pandemic fears boost interest in home schooling in North Dakota, Minnesota

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Having a schedule can be a huge game changer for home-schooling. Dreamstime / TNS
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FARGO — With uncertainty swirling around the upcoming school year due to the pandemic, it appears some parents are considering something they might not have before.

In both North Dakota and Minnesota, there seems to be an uptick in inquiries from parents about home schooling their children.

Theresa Deckert, office administrator of the North Dakota Home School Association, said she’s received many calls and emails, especially since the state announced that school districts can decide whether to hold classes in-person, online or a mix of the two.

“It’s just exploded,” she said, of the interest.

Daron Korte, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education who oversees charter school programs, is also seeing hints that more home schooling will take place.

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“Anecdotally, we’re hearing more inquiries from parents whose children or family members have underlying health concerns, or are just generally uncomfortable,” he said.

Deckert has heard the same concerns. Parents are also worried about their children starting in-person instruction, then being sent back home if coronavirus cases begin spreading.

“They just feel the back and forth is too hard for young children,” Deckert said.

How learning will take place in Minnesota due to the pandemic is still being determined, Korte said, but a decision will be made by July 27.

As such, families may want to wait until then before deciding, he said.

Parents should fully understand what they’re getting into before deciding to home-school.

Deckert
Jeff and Theresa Deckert opted to home-school their four children, Larisa, Jared, Jonathan and Joseph, all of whom have graduated. Theresa is office administrator for the North Dakota Home School Association. Special to The Forum

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For example, one parent asked Deckert whether several families could team up and hire a certified instructor to teach all of their children.

Deckert said the answer is no, because that would amount to a private school setup, which has its own separate laws in North Dakota.

Another scenario was whether parents from several families could take turns teaching each other’s children as a way of keeping potential COVID-19 exposures low.

Again, not likely, Deckert said, calling that “uncharted waters.”

Each home schooling parent is to be primarily responsible for their own child’s education, with the exception of certain online offerings or music instruction, for example, she said.

In North Dakota, a parent looking to home-school must file a Statement of Intent form with their local school superintendent 14 days prior to starting.

Parents must be diligent about tracking their child’s progress, especially if they intend to put their kids back in public school the following year.

“It’s a lot of work, but they can do it. That's part of why our organization exists is just to help parents,” Deckert said.

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Home-school parents must also seek and pay for their own curriculum, books and supplies. She encourages them to do so soon because of rising demand for those products.

Parents who intend to home-school in Minnesota must let their local school district superintendent know by October 1, and again, must cover homeschooling expenses.

Minnesota, however, has an option not available in North Dakota.

Public online learning offers free public school curriculum and instruction by licensed Minnesota public school teachers, usually with some parent or guardian involvement.

“You’re at home helping the child instead of having to do it all yourself,” Korte said.

No such public online option for K-12 students is available in North Dakota, Deckert said.

There are online options, faith-based and secular, taught by licensed teachers, but parents pay for all of those courses, she said.

Local school districts say it’s too soon to know exactly how many students will be home-schooled this fall.

Heather Leas, spokesperson for West Fargo Public Schools, said with registration not scheduled until the first week in August, the district hasn’t yet begun receiving those forms.

A survey of West Fargo families gauging how comfortable they are with students returning to class gave home schooling as one option.

Leas said 4.4% of those responding indicated a desire to home-school, but it was in no way committing a family to that course of action.

AnnMarie Campbell, spokesperson for Fargo Public Schools, said it’s too early for concrete data on home schooling because the district is still formulating plans for fall that families will want to review.

As for Moorhead Area Public Schools, spokesperson Brenda Richman said they are not seeing a significant decline in enrollment at this time, and they support parents in making decisions that are right for their families.

The North Dakota Home School Association is holding informational meetings around the state in the coming weeks for parents who are interested in homeschooling. The list of those meetings is available on their website.

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