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Prince Edward County 02/14/24

Since August of 2023, HEAV has corresponded with the Prince Edward school board addressing a multitude of concerns with the district’s religious exemption policy and subsequent board meeting discussions. Despite HEAV’s diligent efforts, the board has adopted a policy that includes an annual reporting requirement imposed for families who are exempted from Virginia’s compulsory education law for religious reasons. According to the superintendent, the effort behind the move is not to “lose children.” HEAV disagrees with the district’s action.

The final draft copy of the religious exemption policy, JEG-R, states, “Parents must submit a letter of intent to home school for any reason to the school division superintendent annually.” According to Prince Edward’s superintendent, the school board attorney believes the board is within its rights to impose this requirement. However, having thoroughly reviewed the board’s discussions, we believe the board is confused on the differences between an exemption from compulsory attendance due to religious reasons and complying with compulsory attendance through the home instruction law. You may hear the board’s discussions on November 8th (28m in), December 6th (27m in), and January 17th (1h, 25m in).

There has been a state-wide crackdown on public school absences. However, the law does not require families who choose a private school, a Virginia-certified tutor, or have received other types of exemptions from compulsory attendance to submit an annual “letter of intent” to the superintendent. Only religiously exempt families have been targeted by the new policy.

HEAV believes the board’s interest in tracking children has resulted in a policy that is poorly understood by the board, is inconsistent with historic and state-wide practice, and discriminately targets religiously exempt families in its district.

What You Should Know:

  • The law does not require religiously exempt families to “…submit a letter of intent to home school for any reason to the school division superintendent annually.”
  • Parents who are concerned about this policy may wish to contact an attorney such as the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
  • The religious exemption law states: “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.”
  • The home instruction law, not the religious exemption law, states: “Any parent who elects to provide home instruction…shall annually notify the division superintendent…of his intention to so instruct the child…”
  • In Commonwealth of VA VS. Terry Foreman and Joyce Foreman, Judge Fidler notes the following in his decision: “Implicit in the language of Section 22.1-257 A2 and the other sections in Chapter 14 of Title 22.1 it is the proposition that if the defendants and their children are entitled to be excused from attendance at school because of their bona fide religious beliefs they are exempt from any other laws, rules or regulations of the local School Board with reference to public education matters.”
  • Reference: §22.1-254.(B)(1), §22.1-254.1(B), Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) Religious Exemption Information, Commonwealth of Va. Vs. Terry Foreman and Joyce Foreman

HEAV is always available should you ever have questions or need assistance. Please contact us anytime at 804-278-9200 or via our contact form.

Patricia Beahr
HEAV Assistant Director of Government Affairs

‌Read more about school district incidents here.

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