Q. If I want to homeschool under religious exemption, should I have others write additional letters?
A. Sending or not sending additional letters for religious exemption is a decision each family must make for themselves. I’m not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. However, I can tell you what the law says and how the additional letters are used. This may help you with your decision.
As you may already know, the law does not mention additional letters from pastors, religious leaders, or from friends. The statute, § 22.1-254 (B)(1) states:
A school board shall excuse from 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. 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.
An exemption from compulsory school attendance is for parents who have sincere religious convictions against sending their children to public school. The sole job of the school board is to determine if your beliefs and convictions are genuine or sincere religious beliefs and not opinions based on political, sociological or philosophical views, or a personal moral code. This is the reason parents clearly state their religious beliefs and document their beliefs by including quotes from scripture or other religious documents.
As a way to confirm these beliefs, parents may want to provide additional letters of “witness” to the school board. These letters could be from friends who have known the parents for a number of years or from religious leaders who can vouch for the sincerity of their faith and beliefs. Those who write the letters do not have to agree with RE or even agree with home instruction. The purpose of the letters is to state how long they have known the parents, and confirm that the family lives a life that is consistent with their religious convictions. These additional letters may be helpful to the school board in deciding if the parents’ convictions are sincere.
I suggest you speak with a local homeschool group or co-op to find out the RE climate in your area and the history of the local school board’s decisions. You may also want to join HSLDA if you plan to pursue RE. Some school boards are not as easy to work with as others.