Port: With schools canceled thanks to coronavirus, is it time to revisit virtual at-home education plans?

Education web art

MINOT, N.D. — Last night, Sunday, March 16, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced his administration's recommendation that schools across the state close as an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Shortly after the announcement, state Rep. Jim Grueneich R , Jamestown, moving to Ellendale , texted me, reminding me of an idea he had proposed during the 2019 legislative session: virtual school days.

"Had it passed would certainly have been an option which we don't currently have," he told me.

Last year's debate over the bill, HB1170 , was couched in the challenges presented by weather cancelations, but the idea would have utility in other situations, too.

Like kids out because of injuries or illness.


Or keeping up on schoolwork during a vacation.

Or keeping the education wheels turning during a global pandemic.

It's clear that some form of at-home instruction is already on the minds of the region's educators:

How would it work?

Gruenrich's bill was short on specifics. It would have essentially allowed school districts to develop a virtual education plan, to be approved by the state superintendent, which could then be deployed during weather cancellations so that those days could still be counted as instruction days.

Here's an excerpt from the bill which failed on a 43-48 House vote (video here ):


EMBED: Jim Grueneich virtual education bill

It wouldn't be hard to amend that language to include situations - illnesses, vacations, pandemics, etc. - but there remains the practical problem of the plans themselves.

Are the kids learning online?

How do teachers prepare online lessons that are topical to the instruction already going on in class?

Are the kids using their own devices, like laptops and tablets? If so, how do you handle kids who don't have access to those devices? Or a reliable internet connection?

What about kids who don't stay at home, even when school is canceled? Many parents still have to work, meaning kids go to daycares or babysitters. Would they have access to this at-home instruction system there?

These are not insurmountable problems, but they are problems that would need to be solved before Grueneich's idea could be workable.


Even if Grueneich's legislation had passed last year, it's unlikely we'd have a statewide at-home education system ready to go.

Still, the time to create something like this is before we have a need for it.

As so many of us sit at home today, wondering when things will get back to normal, I wonder if we don't see some value in exploring Grueneich's idea again.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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