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.
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