Misinformation about one of the School Board’s legislative priorities has drawn backlash from Loudoun’s homeschool community, prompting board members to reconsider their initial vote on the matter.
The board’s adopted 2019 Legislative Program—which outlines its requests to Loudoun’s delegation in the General Assembly—includes a statement that the board supports a change in state law that would require parents who choose to homeschool their children under the religious exemption to affirm they will uphold their child’s right to an education.
While the item was discussed twice in the Legislative and Policy Committee, it was talked about only briefly with the full board ahead of adopting the final program Nov. 13. Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), who sits on the Legislative and Policy Committee, explained the intent behind adding the item to the board’s program. He said a 2012 study indicated that an oversight in state law could open up the door for families who take the religious exemption to not actually provide an education to their children.
“All this would do is ask that, if you’re claiming a religious exemption, at least affirm that you’re going to educate the child. That’s it,” Hornberger said. “That’s what all of the families who spoke to us tonight do anyway. … I thought that made sense.”
Almost two dozen speakers approached the board Tuesday to voice their opposition to any additional requirements to families opting to homeschool their children because of religious reasons.
Many of the speakers were brought out by a letter written by Del. David LaRock (R-33) sent to constituents and supporters that claimed that the change would require homeschool families to have their curriculum pre-approved by the public schools. Several board members referred to LaRock’s letter as “completely erroneous” and “propaganda,” and said when they provided the correct information to parents of homeschool students, those families understood the board’s intent.
In an interview with Loudoun Now, LaRock later said that he and the senior counsel at Home School Legal Defense Association determined that the way the School Board’s legislative request was worded would essentially repeal families’ rights to claim religious exemption.
“The board’s action item is worded in a way that clouds its true objective,” HSLDA’s senior counsel Scott Woodruff said in a statement emailed to families. He goes on to say that the School Board wants to abolish the religious exemption and only allow children to get an education through “public, private, parochial and/or approved home instruction setting.”
The overwhelming response from families prompted the board to debate the issue past 11 p.m.
Ryan Ash, whose children are homeschooled, said the board is trouncing on a God-given right. “I don’t think the School Board should take on that responsibility to make sure the religious exception has any additional oversight.”
Another parent, JoAnne Elvers, said, “I do not believe it is in the children’s best interest to allow the government to determine where our children will be best educated.”
Rob Shaw-Fuller said that, as Christians, he and his wife believe it is their responsibility to educate their children. “In short, we homeschool our children because it would be sinful for us to do otherwise.”
Several board members said they are in full support of homeschool families and do not want to hinder their right to educate their children. “This was really an intent to make sure the state constitution and the code provisions match up to ensure students are getting an education, nothing more nothing less,” said Rose, but added she is in support of deleting the item from the program. “We can hit the pause button on this, and that doesn’t make us wrong, it makes us responsive.”
“This was never an attack on religious freedoms, it was never an attack on homeschooling,” said Beth Huck (At Large), who added that her brother, who homeschools his children, would disown her if she didn’t support homeschooling families. “It was actually with really good intent to ensure that every child in Virginia has access to an education.”
A motion by Rose to remove the item from the board’s Legislative Program failed on a 4-4 vote. But the majority of the board, with just Tom Marshall (Leesburg) opposed, agreed to send it back to committee for further discussion.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) acknowledged that “completely false” information was spread about what the result of any change in legislation would do, saying “The false information was spread rapidly on social media … and we were unable to get our arms around the discussion before it went south.” But, he said, some of the confusion can be cleared up by improving how the board words the item on its Legislative Program.
Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who chairs the Legislative and Policy Committee, asked that the committee’s 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4 meeting be moved to a larger room. “I’m assuming many from the public will come, and I also invite the entire board to come and be a part of the discussion during the committee meeting.”
The full board is not scheduled to meet before it presents its Legislative Program to state senators and delegates at its Legislative Breakfast Dec. 7, so the program will be presented as adopted.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a comment from Del. David LaRock and Home School Legal Defense Association’s senior counsel.