South Dakota has long prided itself on school choice, but only a fraction of the state's young people — 14,500 K-12 students — are in non-public schools.
That’s according to fall 2021 enrollment counts from the South Dakota Department of Education from more than 80 non-public school groups or facilities.
With National School Choice Week is coming up on Jan. 23-29 this year, the NSCW organization estimates more than one in every six children switched schools across the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020.
Despite those estimates, South Dakota's non-public schools lost more than 900 students from fall 2019 to fall 2020, with enrollment leveling off in fall 2021, according to DOE data. Meanwhile, public K-12 school enrollment grew by more than 1,400 students this fall.
Statewide, there is no one reason to pinpoint for these enrollment changes, DOE information specialist Ruth Raveling said. And, the enrollment losses are primarily seen outside of the Sioux Falls area.
Popular, well-established private schools in the Sioux Falls area include Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools (2,193 students), Sioux Falls Christian (1,270 students) and Sioux Falls Lutheran (216 students). Enrollment has grown since 2019 at both the Christian and Lutheran schools, and enrollment at O'Gorman slightly dipped between 2019 and 2020 but is growing once again with the 2021 count.
Those who left O'Gorman schools between 2019 and 2020 were mostly preschool students who chose not to do virtual learning provided at the time, or who had families working from home to take care of them, local education officials said in March 2021.
Other private accredited schools that submit enrollment counts to the DOE include:
Baan Dek Montessori (three students)
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church & School (21 students)
East Dakota Educational Co-Op, or Teachwell Solutions (88 students)
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, School and Early Childhood Center (56 students)
McCrossan Boys Ranch (47 students)
Westside Christian School (48 students)
Approved programs by the DOE that have educational services at the facility include the following:
Behavior Care Specialists (18 students), which offers behavioral treatment utilizing the principles of applied behavior analysis to children and young adults with autism living in or near Sioux Falls
Children’s Home Society (118 students), which includes Children’s Inn, Sioux Falls Children’s Home and Black Hills Children’s Home
CHOICES Alternative Center High School (six students) which has a mailing address of 3520 S. Gateway Lane, Sioux Falls, SD 57106 on the DOE website and is listed with Volunteers of America organizers
Dakotabilities (one student), which works with people with disabilities at the Longfellow Center
Lifescape (103 students), which supports people with varied needs and complex care across their lifespan
Southeastern (12 students), which emphasizes emotional wellness for children, adults and families across the four-county area of Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook and Turner counties.
All aforementioned nonpublic schools have governing bodies, may limit enrollment to specific cohorts, may charge tuition, and may receive federal or state revenues in the form of grants, subsidies and special appropriations, according to state law.
The schools are also not required to be free or open to all school-age children, and isn’t eligible to receive state aid to education.
They also get state approval, which is a formal designation given to a non-public school or specialized non-public educational program found to meet specified criteria, including applicable state laws and administrative rules.
There are a handful of alternative schools in the Sioux Falls area that aren’t accredited or approved by the DOE. The DOE has no involvement with them and doesn’t collect enrollment counts from them. They include the following:
Abiding Savior Academy
Central Preschool & Kindergarten
Covenant Classical School
Seventh Day Adventist School
These schools must comply with state laws governing alternative instruction, which includes homeschool. Accreditation processes include the requirement for a review of each district in five-year cycles, which is meant to help in the constant school improvement process.
Components of an accreditation review include student birth certificate verifications, student immunization verifications, certified staff background verifications, classified staff background assurance, open enrollment assurance, kindergarten requirements, student records secure storage, graduation requirements, character development instruction, alternative instruction notification and more.
Only public accredited schools must adhere to medical marijuana policy, display the national motto, adhere to FERPA, and complete teacher and principal evaluations.
All accredited schools must also implement school improvement plans, personal learning plans, safety/emergency plans, emergency drills, bullying policy, restraint and seclusion policy, online courses and must also teach to state content standards. They must also post school calendars with the required minimum hours and staff must be state-certified.
'More educational freedom'
Adam Brucklacher at Cornerstone School told the Argus Leader that students at the school are registered as homeschool students, which allows the school to “have more educational freedom to do what we want to do,” and no one comes in telling them what they have to teach. The school does follow high school guidelines for graduation and uses an accredited curriculum.
ACE Academy opened in the fall of 2020 and is one of many non-accredited schools in Sioux Falls, according to founder and executive director Chloe Clemens. It’s a year-round mixed K-8 private school that explores culture-based curriculum, opportunity, access and worldly exposure, according to the website.
Acton Academy opened Aug. 23, 2021. Founders wanted to bring back the one-room schoolhouse model, where classes won’t be led by a teacher but instead by a guide who provides challenges, frameworks, processes and tools for students to make it more learner-driven.
The private school doesn’t have grades, tests or report cards. Students have the option to take standardized tests twice a year, but the academy doesn’t spend time teaching the contents of that test.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Alternative Sioux Falls schools trend upward as enrollment levels