Although the legislative session has yet to begin, HEAV wants to alert you to two issues of immediate concern to homeschoolers.
HEAV has learned from public records that a school board has submitted a formal, written request asking the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to change the language in the religious exemption statute. This action could have far-reaching effects on the First Amendment rights (free exercise of religion) of homeschoolers of all faiths
Also, we have been made aware that another school district has changed its policies regarding how a parent notifies the superintendent that he intends to instruct his child[ren] at home. Requirements that exceed those specified by law create a dangerous precedent that can result in requests for increasing amounts of information and an infringement on a parent’s right to homeschool.
Please read the details below and learn what you can do to protect these rights.
Director of Legislative Affairs
The Botetourt County School Board approved and submitted a formal proposal to Virginia School Boards Association’s (VSBA) Legislative Positions Committee asking them to consider a legislative position change regarding §22.1-254(B)(1), the religious exemption statute.
What may change?
The board proposed an addition to VSBA’s legislative package that would require religiously exempt parents and their children to certify annually that they are conscientiously opposed to attendance at school.
According to the reasons listed on the request form, school board attorneys are advising school boards to annually reexamine religious exemption approvals. This advice is based on a very old, 1984 attorney general’s (AG) opinion that suggests there should be an annual family review; however, AG opinions do not carry the weight of law. The law does not specifically state that school boards can review a family’s beliefs on a yearly basis.
Botetourt County Superintendent Tony Brads commented to the Roanoke Times Dispatch, “We have been advised by legal counsel that the board should revisit these religious exemption approvals as the student ages.”
The proposal’s Rationale for Changes concludes by stating, “Adding the annual renewal part of the statute will enable the school boards to have more authority [emphasis mine] when students and families seek renewals, yet it does not go so far as to require proof of academic progress.”
The Hampton City school board has adopted a policy that requires homeschoolers to complete and submit its “Home School and Non-Religious Exemption Application for Exemption from Compulsory Education” in lieu of a Notice of Intent form or letter. This application, approved by the Hampton school board attorney, requests information that goes well beyond what the law requires, and should be of concern to all homeschooling parents in Virginia.
The application states: “If you wish to apply for an exemption, you must fully complete the following form for consideration by the School Board of the City of Hampton. The application must be signed under oath by the parent(s) and pupil (if age 10 or older) and notarized by a Notary Public…An incomplete application will not be processed and failure to provide all of the required information will result in a denial of the exemption.”
The form itself also asks parents for additional information including the student’s date of birth, grade level, and details about alternative program enrollment.
Complying With the Law
It is important for parents to know exactly what the law does and does not require.
When filing a Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction form, parents are not “applying” for permission to homeschool, but rather they are NOTIFYING the superintendent of the way in which they have complied with the homeschool the statute. The law does not state that a particular form must be used or that any form at all must be used—a parent could comply by writing a letter.
The Virginia homeschool law, §22.1-254.1, requires that parents provide evidence that they have met one of the four options listed in §22.1-254.1(A). The law states that a parent may homeschool if he has a high school diploma; or is a certified teacher; or provides a program of study or curriculum which may be delivered through a correspondence course or distance learning program or in any other manner; or provides evidence that he is able to provide an adequate education for the child.
The law also does not require parents to submit a child’s date of birth in order to homeschool. A child’s name and identifiers such as DOB or a social security number can be used as a means of tracking students. Many states are beginning to develop longitudinal databases to track students from birth to the workforce without the parent’s permission. Access to these databases can be shared with anyone the school system would like to share the information.
Rather than a birth date, a parent can provide a child’s age, which will indicate whether or not a child is under compulsory attendance laws.
Neither does the law require that a Notice of Intent form be notarized, nor does it require a student to sign the form.
HEAV has been in contact with the homeschool liaison, Dr. Copeland, from Hampton City Schools. He has indicated that they prefer that parents use the forms provided on their website. HEAV has requested a meeting with the superintendent, Dr. Copeland, and the school board attorney to clarify the requirements of the law in regard to the Notice of Intent and the City of Hampton’s additional forms.
We suggest parents cautiously review NOI forms provided by a local school division. They often request information beyond the scope of the law. You may download and print the NOI form on HEAV’s website. It includes only the information required by the Virginia homeschool statute.
What Action Can We Take?
First, we can pray that God will work in the hearts of our legislators to protect our religious freedoms and rights to educate our children at home. Pray that we will move forward with God’s direction and that He will go before us and make our path straight. May we find favor in the eyes of those in authority.
Second, take this important time to visit your state legislators and make yourself known as a homeschool constituent. If legislators know homeschoolers personally, they are more likely to support legislation that will protect our rights when voting during the General Assembly session.
Legislators are now in their district offices. Please call and speak to their assistants to schedule a short appointment. It’s good for legislators to know that homeschoolers are typical families who care about their children. The only difference is our choice in education.
You may ask them to protect our religious freedoms, thank them for their service, and ask if they have any questions about homeschooling that you can answer. If appropriate, you could offer to help with their next election campaign.
It’s also a good time to invite your legislators to speak at your support group or co-op meeting. It’s important for legislators to know you are interested in their position on home instruction and that you are aware of their voting record on family issues.They are glad to visit their constituents and share information about how state government works. A Q&A session at the end of their presentation makes a great civics lesson for parents and students alike!
Who should you contact?
Not sure who represents you in the Virginia General Assembly? Go to virginiageneralassembly.gov and click on the bar at the very top of the page. After typing in your name and address, you’ll find contact information for your state and federal representatives.
HEAV is working with other homeschool groups to protect our religious freedoms. Our position is stronger if we work together. Let me know the outcome of your legislative visit. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for further updates. Subscribe to the Legislative Update today!