Homeschooling allows parents a great deal of flexibility to provide for their children’s educational needs and share the values that matter to them most. But as a recent case in Minnesota shows, officials aren’t always equally nimble when it comes to understanding and enforcing homeschool law.
Because public school officials misinterpreted Minnesota law, a homeschooling family was left in fear of being charged with truancy and investigated by authorities last fall.
Tonya Lockwood and her husband have been homeschooling their two boys in a district near Minneapolis since 2018 and are HSLDA members. They have consistently complied with state requirements. Every year Tonya and her husband have submitted a notice of intent to homeschool to the superintendent.
This year, however, an unusual package from school officials caused confusion well before the October deadline for submitting the notice.
Confusing the Issue
Tonya said her family had just returned home from a national fencing tournament, which her younger son had competed in, when they found a parcel from the public school district.
“Until this year, they never sent us anything,” Tonya recalled. “There were rumors about changes in paperwork, then suddenly I had this huge packet from the district with all these homeschool forms to fill out.”
Tonya contacted HSLDA Staff Attorney Amy Buchmeyer for clarity on the law.
Buchmeyer explained that the forms provided by the school district were optional. She added that a simple letter of intent meets the requirements of the law as long as it contains the information listed in Minnesota’s education code. (More details on Minnesota’s homeschooling laws here.)
Buchmeyer added that the law even permitted Tonya’s family to skip filing any homeschool notice at all, because their youngest son had turned 16 before the start of the new school year.
So, Tonya decided not to send a notice. A few weeks went by.
Then she received a disturbing letter from school officials. The letter said that because they had not filed a notice of intent, they were not in compliance with the state’s compulsory school attendance law.
“The next steps include filing truancy charges,” the letter said. “The police of the city you reside in will also be contacted. An officer will visit your home to ensure your child is safe and being cared for adequately.”
The school district’s aggressive tone frustrated Tonya because it didn’t seem to take into consideration her long record of complying with regulations.
“I’m a rule-follower,” she said. “I don’t push the limits.”
But since school officials were overstepping their bounds, she contacted HSLDA again.
Buchmeyer emailed authorities at the school district to explain that Tonya had indeed followed homeschool law. A few hours later, officials apologized and said they had made a mistake.
Tonya said the resolution came as a great relief. She and her husband can now focus on completing a homeschool journey that has greatly benefited her family.
They began homeschooling after her older son lost hearing in one ear. Public school officials offered some accommodations to help him deal with this unanticipated need, but these proved inadequate.
Tonya said homeschooling has empowered her son to keep up with his studies and pursue his love of music. “He can hear a song once and then go play it on his piano or guitar,” she said.
Meanwhile, her younger son has become an avid fencer. He competes with two different teams and serves as captain of one.
“Homeschooling makes it convenient to travel for fencing,” Tonya said. “It’s almost like a part-time job!”