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No. 3

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Two Bills Improve Homeschool Law

On March 11, 2008, Governor Tim Kaine signed House Bill 1183 into law, guaranteeing families who file a notice of intent the right to submit two new kinds of year-end assessments. Homeschoolers who file the assessment after July 1, 2008, the law’s effective date, may submit one of the following:

  • An evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a person with a master's degree or higher in an academic discipline, having knowledge of the child's academic progress, stating that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; or
  • A report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home-education correspondence school.

This is a major step forward for homeschool freedom. Previously, superintendents simply refused to consider these types of assessments.

Your phone calls were instrumental in this victory! Home Educators Association of Virginia and the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers also provided major support.

Special thanks also go to Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, who filed this bill at the request of Home School Legal Defense Association. His leadership was pivotal during the struggle for passage. Our thanks go to Governor Kaine as well, who has consistently signed bills to improve Virginia’s homeschool law, and under whose leadership the State Department of Education has developed an excellent working relationship with homeschool organizations.

On March 5, 2008, Governor Kaine signed H.B. 767 into law, simplifying and easing the initial homeschool start-up requirements. Previously, a family filing a notice of intent had to demonstrate one of the following at the beginning of the school year: 1) possession of a high school diploma, 2) possession of a teacher certificate, 3) use of a state-approved correspondence course, 4) use of a curriculum that included the state standards of learning (SOLs) for math and language arts, or 5) ability to provide an adequate education. H.B. 767 combined the third and fourth options, simplifying them so that the only requirement is the provision of a “program of study or curriculum.”

Effective July 1, 2008, parents will be able to choose one of four start-up options, showing 1) possession of a high school diploma, 2) possession of a teacher certificate, 3) provision of a program of study or curriculum, or 4) ability to provide an adequate education.

In the past, HSLDA has helped families who struggled to begin their homeschool program under the start-up option requiring the state SOLs. Goochland County, for example, caused great turmoil in the homeschool community a few years ago when officials began calling families in to the school district and demanding to see their books so they could determine whether every math and language arts SOL was included. We are glad to see this problem go!

Also under the old system, the use of a correspondence program would only satisfy the start-up requirement if it was previously approved by the State Department of Education. The department wanted to get out of the business of approving homeschool correspondence courses and instead simply trust homeschooling families to do their own research—and H.B. 767 allows them to do so.

As of July 1, families no longer need wonder whether their favorite correspondence program has been approved or whether it includes the SOLs. Any program of study or curriculum will suffice if that is the chosen start-up option.

Although two homeschool-friendly tax credit bills and a sports access bill failed to become law this legislative session, bills opposed by HSLDA members also failed to become law: H.B. 1540 would have undermined parent-taught driver education; H.B. 438 would have tied learner’s permits to school attendance; and the original version of H.B. 1382 would have allowed caseworkers a breathtaking level of power to file lawsuits against families.

God has truly used this legislature to bless Virginia homeschoolers.

— by Scott A. Woodruff

Lynchburg Retracts Threat to Religious Exemptions

Lynchburg City Public Schools (LCPS) recently backed away from adopting a policy that would have violated state law and interfered with the right of parents to claim religious exemption from public school attendance.

On February 19, 2008, LCPS considered a religious exemption policy that would have required any child age 14 or older to sign a statement indicating that they personally had conscientious religious objections to public school attendance. One school board member opposed the draft because he was troubled by the idea of requiring a child to sign. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another board member suggested that the policy be changed to require that all children, regardless of age, sign the form. The board tabled the policy until the March 4 meeting. The March 4 agenda included a revision of the proposed draft which required children of any age to sign.

An HSLDA member called us about the situation, asking for help. In response, HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff wrote a letter to the board explaining that the board’s insistence on the signature of a 14-year-old regarding his religious belief violated state law. Virginia’s religious exemption statute allows for an exemption based on training or belief. In other words, training and belief are separate, equal grounds for the exemption. The LCPS draft was flawed because it did not give parents the option of qualifying for the exemption by demonstrating that they were training their child.

Some interesting history lies behind the “training or belief” wording. When Virginia adopted the present religious exemption, it borrowed language extensively from the Federal Selective Service Act. That federal law allows for persons to be exempted from military duty if they have a conscientious religious objection. However, their objections must be based on both training and belief.

When the Virginia General Assembly borrowed from the federal act’s language, it made one crucial change. It took out “and” between “training” and “belief” and replaced it with “or.” Whereas a conscientious objector to military service must establish both his training and his belief, a Virginia family need only show training or belief.

This crucial change was necessary because while a conscientious objector is always an adult, school attendance always deals with children. And society does not expect children to have the same level of maturity in their beliefs as adults. In fact, children are under their parents’ direction and supervision in matters of faith, religious instruction, and church participation. If parents have firm religious objections to public school attendance, but their children do not, we honor the parents’ wishes if the parents are training their children in the same beliefs that they hold. Lawmakers knew that children of all ages sometimes do not have the same beliefs as their parents, but so long as the parents are training the children in those beliefs, the family is entitled to the exemption.

Following receipt of Woodruff’s letter, the board reconsidered the policy, and at its meeting on March 4 dropped all demands that children sign any religious exemption form.

— by Scott A. Woodruff