Home Schoolers Are Heard
Virginia home schoolers were recently faced with the probability that legislation designed to repeal the religious exemption statute would be introduced during the 1994 session. Many home schoolers have chosen to operate under the religious exemption statute, based on their strong religious beliefs which make them opposed to sending their children to public schools. The religious exemption carries on the tradition of Virginia, which was the birthplace of religious freedom in our country.
Home School Legal Defense Association sent out an alert to its membership requesting that they contact their delegates and senators concerning their opposition to any attempt to repeal the religious exemption statue. In order to prepare for this possible attempted repeal, HSLDA requested its members operating under the religious exemption to sent in copies of any standardized test scores from their children. HSLDA collected 213 students’ scores and commissioned a study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute in order to analyze the scores. The study showed that the religious exemption students K-12 scored very highly. The average percentile score for reading was the 90th percentile, math—87th percentile, language—83rd percentile, science—89th percentile, and social studies—87th percentile. The basic battery composite score average was the 89th percentile. This shows that home schoolers operating under the religious exemption statute are doing far above average, which is, of course, the 50th percentile. HSLDA and Virginia home schoolers can use this evidence in the future to defend the fact that children being home schooled under the religious exemption are being very well educated without any state regulation whatsoever.
Over the next few months, hundreds of families wrote to their representatives, and almost every written response received by the home schoolers was favorable. Nearly every legislator and senator stated that they would be opposed to an attempt to repeal the religious exemption statute.
Even State Superintendent Joseph Spagnolo, when confronted on the issue after he wrote a memo stating the likelihood of legislation being introduced, denied any desire to have the statute repealed.
In addition, the newly elected Governor George Allen is committed to vetoing any attempt to repeal the religious exemption statute or further restrict home schoolers in any way.
It seems apparent that the home schoolers’ voice was clearly heard in Richmond, halting the introduction of this dangerous legislation. HSLDA will continue to monitor the situation in case of any change. As of the printing of this newsletter, it seems that religious exemptions in Virginia will be protected.
Religious Exemptions Granted Throughout the State
HSLDA has been successful in counseling dozens of families to receive religious exemptions throughout the state. A recent survey done by the department of education found that 1,445 students in Virginia have been declared exempt under the religious exemption law. This number of exempt students represents slightly more than one tenth of one percent of the state’s total school enrollment of 1.04 million students. Furthermore, the department of education survey found that 7,011 children were being taught under the home school statute, which was a 20% increase from the ’92-’93 school year.
The most difficult areas in which to acquire a religious exemption this year have been Prince William County, Manassas City, Isle of Wight County, Arlington County, and Roanoke County. In those jurisdictions, home schoolers have had to face extensive hearings before the school boards or school lawyer. By God’s grace, in every instance the home schoolers have been granted religious exemptions after HSDLA attorneys represented the families before the boards.
In Arlington, the religious exemption battle was particularly fierce. The Watkins family, seeking a religious exemption, was grilled for over 2 hours by the Arlington School Board members and two school attorneys. The school board asked for information on the curriculum, teacher qualifications, progress of the students, and other issues which exceeded the sole legal test: whether or not the family had bona fide religious beliefs making them opposed to sending their children to public school. Attorney Christopher Klicka represented the family at the hearing and objected to all the board members’ questions that exceeded the law. After what seemed to be an impossible hearing and a lost cause, the school board decided 3-2 in favor of granting the Watkins family a religious exemption.
Meanwhile, Fairfax County continues to give families who have children over 14 and are seeking religious exemptions a hard time. Two families recently have still not been granted their religious exemptions because the school board wants additional information on the older children’s beliefs. HSLDA hopes that this situation can be resolved by providing written information regarding the children’s beliefs, but refusing to allow the children to be interviewed by the school board.
For the first time, Frederick County granted religious exemptions to HSLDA families who refused to have their young children interviewed by the school staff. HSLDA believes that children of tender years (i.e., under 14) do not need to have their religious beliefs considered. The parents’ religious beliefs alone are sufficient.
Testing in Virginia
Home schoolers operating under the home schooling law are given the options of having their children tested with a national standardized achievement test or evaluated by a qualified person who can indicate that the child has achieved adequate progress. Also, some families have chosen to submit a portfolio of their child’s work, which is also readily accepted by most jurisdictions.
However, a number of school districts have issued erroneous memos concerning these requirements. For instance, some counties have insisted that the only option available to a family is to have their children tested. Other school districts have implied that children who are home schooled must be tested in the public schools or that the administrator of the test must be a certified teacher. All of these so-called “requirements” do not have basis in law. The basic rule in Virginia is that home schoolers can have their child tested with any national standardized achievement test at any time by anybody anywhere, as long as that child scores above the 23rd percentile and those scores are submitted to the local school district by August 1st. Of course, home schoolers also have the option to do evaluations or portfolios in lieu of testing.