note about this post: If you, dear reader, do not need to know about the laws regarding homeschooling in the CNMI, you might just want to skip this post.
When my husband and I first planned to homeschool while in Saipan, we had not yet done any research into whether it would be easy to obtain the necessary permissions, in accordance with the local legal statutes. In general, each state in the U.S. makes their own rules about homeschoolers and I only vaguely knew that our home state was pretty lax when it came to regular and consistent documentation. It turns out, the CNMI is not. What follows are just a few helpful tips so that if anyone out there does a search for “homeschool in the CNMI” or “Saipan home study,” they can get a head start.*
Here is what I have learned:
– Start early: the first step to getting your “home study” registered and approved by CNMI PSS is to write an application for a waiver.
All school age children in the CNMI are required to be enrolled in school. If you do not choose to enroll in either a local public or private school (and there are plenty of options for both!) but instead choose to homeschool, then you need to obtain a official waiver from PSS. The application takes the form of a letter within which you must make your case for homeschooling: explain why you want to homeschool. Provide your qualifications for serving as home study instructor (I listed mine as a college degree and love of learning, especially about cultures).
Of course in your waiver application, you must also send in some basic information about yourselves (names and ages of students, mailing address, that sort of thing). Full details here.
– On PSS’s end: they are required to give you a final response for your waiver request in a timely manner. I had been advised by some naysayers that it would be impossible to obtain a response at all, but happily, they were very much mistaken. Back in February, I received a personal email response from the Commissioner of PSS herself within a week of their receipt of my letter! The official letter of approval followed a few months later (in June). And I am not alone: another family I know here on island received their response even faster since they were late to submit their application and the school year was soon to begin.
– Get organized and stay organized: regular documentation of academic progress is required. PSS asks for monthly, quarterly and annual reports. I believe they will also provide a transcript at the end of the academic year if that is necessary. No participation in standardized testing is required by PSS.
– CNMI education standards are hard to come by, even if you are on-island. Maybe you will get lucky and find a local teacher who will help you out, but often the teachers themselves do not know how to access them, unfortunately.
A final note: One of our primary reasons for homeschooling this year is in order to be flexible enough to travel and take advantage of the proximity of Asia. We have a three-week long visit to Southeast Asia coming up in November and this will not be a “pause” in my children’s education but quite the opposite.
Secondly, while “on-island,” I wanted the freedom to cater the children’s curriculum in a way that makes the most of the best that Saipan has to offer. We want to learn about the ocean, about local marine animals, about how the people of Saipan use the ocean in order to make their livings. We want to learn about the history of this place, its current economics and governance system, its plant life, its current ecological and social challenges. And that is a lot to cover in one year! While my kids would get regular lessons on these topics if they stayed here in school from K-12, they will only receive a small amount of information on these topics within their respective classrooms during one single year. So home study gives us a chance to do more, in a shorter amount of time.
(leftover “pillbox” from WWII)
I made these two points very strongly in my application letter and so here we are, learning as much as we can in the short amount of time we have.
(Canoe-timeline of the settlement and governance of Saipan (2nd and 3rd graders))
That’s my story, feel free to contact me if you would like to know any more and I will do my best.
*Side note: This is actually the reason for my very straightforward–ahem, bland–choice of blog title. There are few online resources out there about homeschooling in Saipan at this point of time. Actually, I found none while doing my searches. So, for whatever it is worth, there is now one more.