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Published October 28, 2013, 09:42 AM

Two schools in region lack approval

Four schools in North Dakota were not approved for operation this year by the state Department of Public Instruction, including two in Grafton and Fordville, according to Matt Strinden, state director of teacher and school effectiveness.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

Four schools in North Dakota were not approved for operation this year by the state Department of Public Instruction, including two in Grafton and Fordville, according to Matt Strinden, state director of teacher and school effectiveness.

Forest River School in Fordville and Pleasant Valley Christian School in Grafton, both private schools that don’t receive funding from the state, didn’t bother requesting approval, school officials said last week. St. Ann’s Catholic School in Belcourt and Squaw Gap School near Sidney, Mont., were also not approved.

The state Department of Public Instruction releases a list each year of schools that were approved and not approved by the state.

Although non-approval for public schools is a more serious issue because of the lack of funding, parents of children who attend non-approved private schools may risk failing to meet the compulsory attendance law, Strinden said.

“Our interpretation is that a student, who within the year they turn 7, needs to be enrolled in an approved public or private school,” he said.

Rules

All schools must meet certain requirements annually to be considered approved by the state or receive state funding, according to Strinden.

This includes teaching by “highly qualified” teachers, or ones who have licenses and teach subjects that match their licenses, such as math, said Strinden. But this was not the case for the school in Fordville, where one of the school’s four teachers is not licensed and “has duties that go beyond her job as an assistant,” said Jesiah Waldner, principal and teacher.

The school, located within a Hutterite community, has about 18 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s one of two schools in Fordville and has never sought state approval. As a Hutterite school, it’s somewhat protected from the compulsory attendance law because it’s not typically enforced at those schools, said Strinden.

In North Dakota, the compulsory attendance law ties in with approved schools, said Strinden. Students aged 7 to 16 must be enrolled in an approved private or public school to fulfill that law, or parents must otherwise apply to educate their children at home, he said.

In Grafton, the K-8 parochial Pleasant Valley Christian School has never sought approval because it’s “not a school that generates income based on school enrollment,” said Dean Fricke, a School Board member involved in the process.

The state Department of Public Instruction’s annual practice of releasing the list of approved schools began in 2009, said Strinden. The idea was to change the funding process because schools submitted information that wasn’t necessarily indicative of their quality, he said.

Although non-approved schools may experience financial problems “because parents may choose not to send their children there” based on the list, Strinden said that the actual number of non-approved schools is not a concern.

With more than 480 schools, statistically, almost all of the state’s schools are approved, he said.

“It’s a very minute amount,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever really had an issue.”

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