In response to the interest and concern expressed by members of our community and others, the School Board will review Policy LBE (Applications for Religious Exemption from Compulsory Attendance) at its meeting on January 13.
The Board appreciates the letters, calls, and emails on the topic of Policy LBE. We believe it will be helpful to all concerned for the Board to share the following information on this topic.
Policy LBE was adopted by the School Board in October 2013, and later revised in December 2013, to establish guidelines and procedures for responding to requests for religious-based exemptions from Virginia’s compulsory education law. The basis for this policy is found in Virginia Code Section 22.1-254. That section of the Code is Virginia’s compulsory attendance law. The two sentences from that section pertaining to the religious exemption read as follows:
B. A school board shall excuse from attendance at school:
1. Any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school. For purposes of this subdivision, “bona fide religious training or belief” does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.
As is our practice with policy adoption, the Board adopted the policy after two separate “readings” at two separate public meetings (in September and October 2013), both of which included opportunities for public comment. The board then followed that up with a revision to the policy, adding an official application form, with two readings across November and December 2013. During the four months that the school board debated this policy, there were eight opportunities for public comment. All of the board members remember well the lengthy and detailed discussion held on this policy.
Most of the concerns we are hearing from the community surround the requirement that the board hear from the pupil at age 14 as to his/her position on the religious exemption. Per the law, it is actually the pupil who is asking for exemption from compulsory attendance and their parents must concur and support that objection. The law may be poorly worded in this regard, but we strive to have a policy that complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law. The age of 14 that we settled on came from a court case in Fairfax County that involved that County’s School Board policy to hear from the child at age 14. In that case a state trial judge held in favor of the school board’s position and appeared to concur that as the age where the pupil might be reasonably asked for his objection to public education directly. This is not an attempt to usurp parents’ rights.
Other comments and concerns that we have heard appear to suggest that the policy is hostile to homeschooling. This is absolutely not the case as we continue to develop mutually beneficial relationships with many homeschoolers through various offerings and opportunities. Home schooling and religious exemption from compulsory attendance are two entirely different concerns. Home schooling comes with requirements: proof of the pupil’s academic progress, in particular. Religious exemption has no requirements and, once granted, there is no oversight whatsoever.
Policy LBE is solely limited to the subject of religious exemption from compulsory education, and was adopted to acknowledge what the Board interpreted as the law’s requirement that at some point the child has a say in whether she or he is conscientiously opposed to attendance at (any type of) school, based upon religious training or belief. We believe our interpretation is also consistent with Virginia courts and Virginia’s Attorney General’s opinions. We stand by our position that Policy LBE does not violate the law, but rather brings us into compliance with the law.
We sought to make the best decision for our community and one that followed the law. We recognize this is a highly sensitive issue and welcome continued input.
We look forward to hearing from interested persons when we review Policy LBE on January 13, 2015. The agenda for that meeting is available here.
~Goochland County School Board – our contact information can be found here.
For further reference, please review this document from the University of Virginia Law School: http://curry.virginia.edu/uploads/resourceLibrary/7000_Children_and_Counting.pdf