UNDATED – There were just over 19,000 homeschooled kids last year in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

That number could go up this year due to COVID-19.

Aza Donnelly, treasurer and Special Needs Coordinator for nonprofit organization Minnesota Homeschoolers' Alliance (MHA), says they've been fielding emails and Facebook messages from parents every day, many of whom are seriously considering homeschooling their children this school year. In a few short months, MHA's Facebook page has doubled in members, currently sitting at over 6,300.

“Some (parents) are saying they’ve been wanting to homeschool for a long time, and they’re very excited to dive in,” she said. “But, a lot of parents are doing this because distance learning wasn’t working for their child last spring, and they’re worried about the fall. They’re also worried about how they’re going to juggle working from home and teaching their child. They’re worried about how to keep their kid on track, so that when they send them back to school, they slide right back into academics easily.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety around it, really,” she added.

Donnelly, a Columbia Heights resident who homeschools her own children, says MHA seeks to help parents understand statutes and laws, file the proper paperwork, and connect them with other homeschoolers in their communities and around the state. She says there are a few simple but critical components to legally homeschooling kids in Minnesota.

“The only requirements (for homeschooling) are that you file a letter of intent, and you test every year,” Donnelly explained. “So, we make sure they know the laws, that they have the appropriate paperwork, and that they know when to have that paperwork turned in. Then, we talk with them a little about the resources in the state and within their area. A lot of it is on Facebook, so we send them off to different Facebook groups, and they can talk with experienced homeschoolers. Homeschooling is so different across the board.”

“But, we really want to make sure people are homeschooling within state statutes,” she continued. “That’s our primary concern. The school districts don’t necessarily know all the homeschool laws, and we don’t want parents to get into a situation where they’ve sent their letter of intent to the wrong person, or they’ve just told someone verbally that they’re going to homeschool their kids, and then they end up with a truancy officer at their door several weeks later. It’s a big deal.”

Donnelly says they’ve observed a recent uptick in the number of secular homeschool families, largely due to the coronavirus.

“We want to point those people in the direction of other homeschoolers who aren’t being homeschooled for religious reasons,” she said. “Often, those homeschoolers end up feeling pretty lost, especially outside of the (Minneapolis/St. Paul) metro.”

Donnelly says MHA encourages families to look for social opportunities for their children. Homeschoolers are usually able to participate in extracurricular activities through their local public school.

“Homeschoolers are all registered with the district, so if a kid wants to join the choir or the hockey team, they should be able to do that," she said. "Lots of kids that homeschool are involved in multiple activities, both inside the school and elsewhere.”

As far as curriculum for homeschoolers is concerned, Donnelly says there are “a ton of options.”

“A lot of (curriculum) is religious, but more is becoming available,” she said. “A lot of seasoned homeschoolers will tell you not to use curriculum, or at least not to spend a lot of money on it right away, because it doesn’t work for every family. Some homeschoolers use online programs, or even write their own curriculum. That’s why we send families to the homeschooler groups on Facebook. We’ll hear from people saying things like, ‘my kid is really struggling in math – does anyone have a really great math curriculum?’ So, we send the new homeschoolers to established homeschoolers.”

Donnelly says curriculum isn’t always necessary right away; she says many experienced homeschoolers will encourage new families to consider beginning with a process called “deschooling.”

“Especially if your child has been bullied or has really struggled in school – take a little time to do nothing,” she explained. “Just regroup. Take a break, start again, and be prepared to change what you do with your kid depending on their needs and the family’s needs.”

“Homeschooling is kind of a family affair,” she added.

The number of kids registered as homeschoolers this fall hasn’t been reported yet. The Minnesota Department of Education will release that data in December. To learn more about Minnesota Homeschoolers' Alliance, visit their website.

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