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April 10: Home Schooling Legalized

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Home schooling is accepted in North Dakota today, but there was a time when home-schooling was illegal. Compulsory school attendance laws required that children aged 7 to 16 be educated, with public-schools the main providers. However, Catholic schools and other parochial schools had become available as alternatives.

By the 1960s, additional forces came into play. The so-called “sexual revolution,” along with the secularization, coarsening, and polarization of American culture, led more parents to desire home-schooling. Families unable to afford private schools, or parents who wanted more time with their children, began teaching them at home.

In the 1980s, there were about 12 home-schooling families in the state where neither parent was a licensed teacher. Therefore, their children were considered truants; and at least 4 families were prosecuted.

These truancy convictions were appealed to the State Supreme Court, with out-of-state attorney Michael Farris presenting their pleas. Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Alliance, applied a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling whereby Amish students were exempted from attending Wisconsin’s public schools beyond eighth-grade in order to avoid immersing the children in ‘worldly ways.’ Lawyer Farris insisted this religious freedom also applied to North Dakota’s home-schoolers, because parents had a right to choose a Christian-emphasis in their children’s education.

The court upheld the truancies, but the publicity brought change. Clinton Birst, head of the North Dakota Home School Association, lobbied for legalization.

On this date, in 1989, a newspaper reported that the state legislature had indeed legalized home-schooling. The new law allowed parents with college degrees to teach their own children without supervision of a public-school teacher. It also permitted parents with high-school diplomas to conduct home-schooling, if monitored by a certified teacher.

There were only about 100 home-schooling families at the time of legalization, but the numbers rapidly increased, with data revealing that home-educated students out-performed their public-school counterparts on standardized tests. In addition to imparting desired values and morals, homeschooling also minimized peer-pressure and bullying. By 2020, the number of home-schooled kids had grown to more than 5,300.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck


  • “Victories Spell Progress For Those Who Seek Legal Home Schooling in N.D.,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 10, 1989, p. 8B.
  • “Girl Pleads Fifth Amendment In School Trial,” Bismarck Tribune, March 24, 1987, p. 11.
  • “Michael P. Farris Interview,” with Thor Sand, North Dakota Home School Association History, ndhsa.org/history-videos, accessed March 11, 2024.
  • “The Rev. Clinton Birst,” obituary, Bismarck Tribune, May 5, 1998, p. 7.
  • Jennifer Olson, “Teach Your Children Well,” Bismarck Tribune, August 25, 1996, p. 1C.
  • Robyn Logelin, “Home School: An Option For Parents To Give Of Themselves,” Bismarck Tribune, April 25, 1994, p. 4.
  • “North Dakota Lawmakers Relax Home School Standards,” Bismarck Tribune, April 10, 2009, bismarcktribune.com, accessed September 8, 2010.
  • “Governor Signs North Dakota’s Home Schooling Law,” The Home School Court Report, Vol. V, No. 11, Summer 1989, hslda.org/courtreport/V5N301, accessed September 8, 2010.
  • Margaret Sitte, “Home Pupils On Fast Track,” Bismarck Tribune, March 14, 1997, p. 5.
  • “Victories For Home Schooling,” New York Times, April 9, 1989, select.nytimes.com, accessed September 8, 2010.
  • Emma Brown and Peter Jamison, “The Christian Home-Schooler Who Made ‘Parental Rights’ A GOP Rallying Cry,” Washington Post, August 29, 2023, Washington Post (Online), accessed March 11, 2024.
  • Virginia Grantier, “More N.D. Families Doing The Teaching,” Bismarck Tribune, July 23, 2000, p. 37.
  • “Woiwode Backs Home Schoolers,” Bismarck Tribune, March 9, 1993, p. 12.
  • “Looser Home School Laws Free Mandan Couple Of Charges,” Bismarck Tribune, April 21, 1989, p. 11.
  • “Home Schooling Figures Increase,” Bismarck Tribune, September 16, 1999, p. 6.
  • “A Victory For The Amish,” Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1972, p. 8.
  • Email message, Doug Roise, March 11, 2024, in possession of author.
  • Email message, Michell Bolduc Roise, March 12, 2024, in possession of author.
  • N.D. Home School Association, How To Home School in N.D., ndhsa.org/homeschool-101, accessed March 11, 2014.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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