Virginia Members Seek Exemptions
In Virginia, homeschoolers seeking religious exemptions this year pursuant to statute have had positive results. The law requires that “A school board...shall excuse from attendance any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief, is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school” (§ 22.1-257).
In Franklin County, the Williams family was able to acquire a religious exemption based on their strong religious convictions which the family submitted to the local superintendent in writing. The family did not even have to appear before the board in person, since the school board granted them a religious exemption based on what had been submitted in writing. The family also had to fill out a short form stating that they were conscientiously opposed to attendance at school based on their religious belief and that they absolve the Franklin County School Board of further responsibility for their children’s education.
In Madison County, the Cowan family, after receiving counsel from HSLDA, wrote a detailed eight-page letter explaining their religious convictions. Without requiring the family to meet with the school board, the superintendent granted the family a religious exemption. Furthermore, the superintendent made his decision based solely on their religious beliefs which is all that should be considered under the law. He said, “. . . this is not a determination of the quality of the program on our part, nor is it a determination that it is appropriate to meet the educational needs of your children.” Too often, school boards will only rule favorably on a religious exemption if a parent has a college degree. Under § 22.1-257, however, only religious convictions are to be considered, not qualifications or curriculum.
In King and Queen County, the Headley family also received a religious exemption from the superintendent without going before the school board. After receiving counsel from HSLDA’s legal staff, the family prepared a letter describing their convictions and then received a letter granting them an exemption.
At least a dozen families in Fairfax County have requested religious exemptions this year. Some of them have been sent a notice of intent form in an attempt to dissuade them from seeking a religious exemption. HSLDA instructed the families to merely write back stating that they are standing on their religious exemption. None of the families’ religious exemptions have been granted but none have been denied. Several other families in both Fairfax and Prince William counties who have not filed a notice of intent form or applied for a religious exemption have been visited by a truant officer. HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka has intervened on their behalf and prevented prosecution.
In April, Klicka appealed a religious exemption case out of Prince William but the court still has not assigned a date for oral arguments (Benner v. Commonwealth, No. 0706-86-4, Court of Appeals at Richmond). This case is important in order to clarify the present misapplication of the religious exemption statute. The case will be argued before the court of appeals of Virginia. It is interesting to note that the state prosecutor chose not to write a brief in response to HSLDA’s.