A Minnesota family choosing to educate their child at home was threatened with legal action by local government school officials over alleged violations of the state’s laws requiring compulsory attendance.
In December 2015, Wayzeta Public School District (WPSD) officials notified the family of their alleged failure to file a “mandatory” notice of intent paperwork. WPSD included in the notification a warning that it planned to file charges with local law enforcement and government school truancy enforcers.
Minnesota law requires homeschooling parents to file a notice of intent for children under the age of 16, but the child in question is 17.
Apology for Harassment
After complying with the legal threat, the family reached out to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) for assistance. After HSLDA lawyers contacted the school district, officials apologized to the family for the incident.
Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney for HSLDA handling the family’s case, says Minnesota law is clear on this subject.
“Families do not have to file a letter of intent to continue homeschooling if the student is over 16 and the family has notified the district of its intent during previous years,” Donnelly said. “The district had no reason to make demands or threats of the family to produce further documentation.”
Donnelly says ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for government school officials.
“We don’t get a lot of these ‘out there’ acts, but this one was particularly egregious,” Donnelly said. “This reflects what happens when officials don’t understand the law. Unfortunately, there are frequent occurrences across the country where school officials push back against homeschooling. We’ve heard public school officials say things to homeschool parents like, ‘We need your kids in school, because they raise the average of the state test scores for the school,’ or ‘We need you to bring your kids back to school because we lose money without your kids, and that’s not good for other kids.'”
District’s History of Harassment
David Watkins, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators (MACHE), a nonpartisan organization representing the interests of Minnesota homeschool families, says Wayzeta Public School District has a history of harassing homeschoolers.
“This district is often confused about the law, and that confusion can border on harassment for parents trying to follow the law,” Watkins said. “Many school districts don’t know what the law says and tend to read more into it than is there.”
Watkins says government school officials often ignore the law.
“We actually had the superintendent of one Minnesota district send a letter out to homeschool parents saying that all homeschool students from ages zero to 21 had to be registered with the district, according to Minnesota law,” Watkins said. “That’s just not true. Families need to send letters of intent to their districts if homeschooling students from ages seven to 16, but this letter said ‘ages 0–21’ no less than three times.
“When I called the district and talked to the superintendent’s secretary and told her she wasn’t properly stating Minnesota law, she told me she’d talk to the superintendent and get back with me,” Watkins said. “Next time I heard from her, she admitted that the superintendent’s office had just wanted to have that information [from families] for their records.”
Educating Educators About Education
Watkins says some government school officials seem to think homeschooling families are freeloaders.
“Teachers and schools seem to think homeschoolers rob their district of money because these students don’t attend district schools,” Watkins said. “In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Homeschool students actually save districts money, because school funding formulas often account for all students in the district. If some of these students are not attending the local brick-and-mortar public school, more resources are available for those students attending.”
Marjorie Holsten, a homeschooling parent and lawyer, says she has heard school officials repeat myths about homeschooling.
“I’m in a district near Wayzeta, and though it was a while ago, when I removed my two children from the public schools, I was told the school would lose funding for half of a teacher,” Holsten said. “[They told me] class sizes would be larger, and it would be all my fault.
“I responded that I was doing what I could to keep class sizes down by removing my own children,” Holsten said.
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Luther, Oklahoma.