Letter: Tom Marshall, Leesburg

Editor: The 10th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States…” Arguably, the most important of these are the power to provide for the education of the children in their state. The Virginia Constitution declares in Article VIII that a child must be guaranteed the fundamental right of an education by his or her parent or guardian.

Hence, it is not surprising that all 50 states have compulsory school attendance laws, but what is unique, is that four of the fifty have provided a statutory exemption from public school attendance, explicitly for religious reasons. The Old Dominion is one of them. Of the remaining three states, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota still require children to receive educational instruction. In addition, South Dakota and Kansas only allow a religious exemption after the child has completed the eighth grade.

Due to the apparent loophole in the Virginia Code, 22.1-254(B)(1), which seems to conflict with the Virginia Constitution, Article VIII, Section 3, Virginia is the only state in the nation that provides a complete statutory exemption to school attendance on religious grounds without any requirement of continued educational instruction.
The Loudoun County School Board approved Dec. 11, 2018 a formal requesting, as one of our legislative priorities to the General Assembly, the following language to modify the Virginia Code.

“Supports legislative changes to the Virginia Code 22.1-254(B)(1) to require that a child be guaranteed the fundamental right to an education by his or her parent or legal guardian, in compliance with Article VIII of the Constitution of Virginia, through an alternative public, private, parochial and/or approved home instruction setting.”

Without this addition, the School Board feels that this loophole in the law would require local school boards to be complicit in efforts to deny a child the fundamental right to an education provided for in the Constitution of Virginia. A 2012 study, entitled “7000 children and Counting: An Analysis of Religious Exemptions from Compulsory School Attendance in Virginia,” conducted by the Child Advocacy Clinic of the University of Virginia School of Law clearly identifies this loophole and suggests that the statute be revisited. That is exactly what we are trying to do as educators.

Simply by adding the requirement for a parent or guardian claiming religious exemption to still educate a child would effectively close this loophole and bring Virginia, at least, in line with the other three states with explicit religious exemptions to compulsory education statues.

Currently, the staff accepts all requests for exemption from compulsory school attendance for religious reasons and places it on the consent agenda for board approval. The applicants need only to fill out some simple forms and provides a letter of recommendation, which they mail in to the Administration building. This has been our practice, as the law (below) is contradictory and vague.

“The School Board may excuse a child from school attendance at school: Any pupil who together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school. Bona fide religious training or belief does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or merely personal moral code. (22.1-254 (B)(!) Code of Virginia.”

The proposed legislation leaves the religious exemption law intact. In addition, The Loudoun County School Board has a flexible policy (8-11) on home school instruction and does not ask that the curriculum for home school instruction be submitted for approval, as suggested by some.

There are many parents home schooling their children, an accepted alternative to compulsory public-school attendance, and a good number of those, also have an exemption from public school attendance for religious reasons. This added language we have proposed for consideration by the General Assembly is to correct the loophole in the law that may allow some families to avoid compliance with the intent of the Virginia Constitution to protect the fundamental right to an education for all school-age children.

Unfortunately, this reasonable added language to the existing law, may never see the light of day in Richmond because of opposition from the far right. I hope a member of the Loudoun delegation to the General Assembly will step forward to protect this right of all school-age children in the commonwealth.

Tom Marshall, Leesburg
Loudoun County School, Leesburg District

3 thoughts on “Letter: Tom Marshall, Leesburg

  • 2019-04-26 at 7:04 pm
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    Tom,

    Why shouldn’t school policies be completely flexible to insure every child has every chance for every bit of education regardless of how much of it provided by public schools, religious schools or home schools. Let’s talk about flexibility: Can home schoolers choose to attend any classes they want that are offered (AND PAID FOR BY THEIR PROPERTY TAXES)? NO
    Can home schoolers or religious education students participate in ANY athletic team offered by the public schools? NO. In fact even if a student has to change public schools approved by LCPS due to unresolved bullying LCPS forces that student to wait a year before continuing to participate on a team he/she had been on in the other high school.
    Why aren’t all students given the choice to opt-into ANY classes as their parents desire given their interests. For example: Even the Monroe Technical courses are deliberately constrained due to LCPS refusing to provide core courses at Monroe so college bound students could attend the programs easily on the A/B alternating day program. Why isn’t the first two years of AOS offered at all high schools as it is a transcript numbered course?
    Finally, if universal education is truly the goal of public schools why are expulsions allowed when the student being expelled is not a danger to anyone? You know very well that during my tenure on the board we had extreme examples of anti-religious behavior at various schools within various programs which should not be condoned but when they are what else should highly religious parents do? It can’t be very easy to teach a child at home when that parent has already paid to have their child in the public school. Eliminate the reasons and they will return.

  • 2019-04-27 at 10:51 am
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    Tom,

    What is your proposed definition of an “approved home instruction setting?” Who approves it? Keep in mind that you are talking about law enforcement — government force.

    Also keep in mind, that while you emphasize Article VIII, Section 3, of the Virginia Constitution, realize that same Constitution also guarantees freedom of religious expression which includes parents expressing their God-ordained right and responsibility to educate their children in the way they see fit. Free exercise of religion—Article 1, Section 16—predates Article VIII. It is part of our Bill of Rights.

    For readers:

    “Article 1, Section 16. Free exercise of religion; no establishment of religion.

    That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. And the General Assembly shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination, or pass any law requiring or authorizing any religious society, or the people of any district within this Commonwealth, to levy on themselves or others, any tax for the erection or repair of any house of public worship, or for the support of any church or ministry; but it shall be left free to every person to select his religious instructor, and to make for his support such private contract as he shall please.”

    Thankfully, our unique and exemplary Virginia Constitution supports parental freedom in the exercise of providing a religious education for their children, and supports it like no other state. You should should be proud of Virginia and our legislators in this respect! Your concern that no child should fall through a supposed loop hole and be uneducated is noble, but it is not substantiated by any evidence that this even occurs. At least it is not prevalent enough to warrant a change in our Constitution.

    God bless,

    Doug Walton
    Boston, Virginia

  • 2019-04-30 at 3:47 pm
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    Once again, we see Tom Marshal on his quest to find a solution in search of a problem.

    But, in real news, ANOTHER LCPS teacher was arrested for sexual misconduct with student.

    Tom, if you need something to do, read the local newspapers. About once a month there is an LCPS employee mug shot when they aren’t reporting on an LCPS football team gang raping their own teammates.

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