Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Religious Exemption Approved, Lawsuit Averted

Scott Woodruff answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in Virginia. He and his wife homeschooled their children. Read more >>


With HSLDA’s guidance, the M.J. family submitted a letter to the Franklin City school board asking that their children be exempted from public school attendance on the grounds that they had religious, conscientious objections to their children attending public school. The letter pointed out that public schools educate kids in a pervasively secular atmosphere, and they knew God did not want their children educated that way.

The superintendent wrote back saying that the board had denied their exemption. The letter explained that the board “ … feels the responsibility to assure that your children receive an appropriate education.” The family asked for help.

Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff wrote to the board explaining that the religious exemption statute did not give them discretion to deny the family’s exemption since they had satisfied all lawful prerequisites. He explained that HSLDA was prepared to represent the family in a lawsuit against the school board if that was the only solution.

Woodruff later learned that several board members were quite new. Their lack of familiarity with the religious exemption statute may have contributed to their surprising rejection of the M.J. request.

Carrying with him lawsuit papers ready to be filed in Southampton Circuit Court, if necessary, Woodruff traveled to speak to the board at its next meeting.

Board Meeting

After Woodruff provided the board with a brief introduction to the statute and data showing that over 20% of families use this as their homeschool option, one member inquired about the religious convictions of the family’s 7-year-old. Woodruff showed the board a copy of the U.S. military conscientious objection statute, after which the Virginia statute is patterned. He noted that while the military statute requires one applying for conscientious objector status to have religious convictions based on both training and belief, the Virginia statute only requires training or belief. And the parents’ letter explained they were training their children in their parents’ beliefs.

One board member said she would have voted in favor of the exemption if the family had provided assurance that they would homeschool the children. Woodruff explained that this is not a prerequisite under the statute.

Another board member said that they like to look over the curriculum of homeschoolers. Woodruff explained that this, likewise, is not a prerequisite under the statute. He added that as of July 1, 2012, the only curriculum description a home instruction family must submit is a simple list of the child’s subjects.

Another board member seemed anxious about whether exempt parents would really educate their kids. Woodruff provided a copy of Dr. Brian D. Ray’s 1994 study showing that Virginia religiously exempt students score 33 percentile points higher than others, on average.

After all their questions had been answered, the board voted to grant the family’s exemption. We appreciate the board’s open mind and willingness to reconsider their decision.