- Religious Exemption Statue-Section 22.1-254 (B). 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 essential political, sociological or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code;
We are fortunate in Virginia in that the compulsory attendance law, via the religious exemption clause, recognizes the right of parents to refrain from sending their children to school, without registration and control of the state. The religious exemption clause allows those who have a bona fide religious conviction to teach their children at home. GRHE strongly advises that any family taking religious exemption join HSLDA for your legal protection. Please note that there is no procedure in the law for declaring religious exemption. Therefore, you may choose either to notify authorities or not to do so. If you are pulling your children out of public school, you will need to write a letter stating your religious convictions to the school board in your district. You may do that by sending it “in care of” the home school official listed within this web site. HSLDA provides members with a packet of instructions for writing this letter. We advise you to join HSLDA and follow their instructions very carefully if you decide to notify authorities. Some districts are now asking families declaring religious exemption to fill out a form. It is very important that you have HSLDA review this form to be sure you are not being asked for information not required by law. Each school district deals with religious exemption families in their own way, and HSLDA will be able to help you know what to expect and how to deal with officials. You only declare religious exemption one time. You do not have to make a yearly declaration. The state takes its hands off you and you, alone before God, are responsible for your child. You do not turn in test scores to the school district, or seek the counsel of the public school system after that. By its very nature, a religious exemption means that you will not be putting your children in a public school in the future. You are, in effect, making a complete break from the public school system.
Notice that, according to the law, you must have a bona fide religious belief and be conscientiously opposed to attendance at public school. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that a family only has to demonstrate religious opposition to the public school, not to the school attendance law or the private school option. This must be a conviction, not merely a preference. According to David Gibbs of the American Law Association, the legal difference between a conviction and a preference (what will hold up in court) is that a conviction does not change, no matter what the change in circumstances. If there is any circumstance you can imagine that would cause you to put your children in a public school (death of husband, loss of income, threat of jail, etc.), you hold a preference, not a conviction.
Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) says, “A religious belief must be one held in relation to a Supreme Being. Your entire belief system must be dependent on a supernatural God and His revelation … You must have a conviction that it would be a sin to send your child to a public school; that it would never by an option to do so … You do not qualify for religious exemption because you disagree with the curricula or the methods of teaching in a public school, you are concerned about safety issues, you do not like Family Life Education, there is a lack of character instruction in the public schools, you do not want to test or evaluate your child annually, or you just want to avoid government entanglement.” If these are your reasons for home educating, you need to proceed under the Home Instruction Law.
Please also note that the law states, “…any pupil who together with his parents … religious training or belief …” After talking with HSLDA, we believe that a child under the age of fourteen (14) does not have to share your religious conviction, but is covered under religious training. However, if your child is fourteen (14) or older, he falls under the “together with his parents and a belief” rather than training. Therefore, at this age, he must share your bona fide religious conviction in order for you to legally claim the religious exemption. If your child does not have this conviction at age fourteen (14) and beyond, you need to home school under another option. HSLDA says that parents choosing this option need to prove
- they have sincere, not fraudulent, beliefs that are
- religious, not merely philosophical, which
- demonstrate their objection to the public schools. Claiming religious exemption is a serious matter, not to be undertaken lightly, and we recommend that if you and your spouse are not absolutely sure where you stand on this issue that you pursue one of the other routes available to home educators.
Again, we strongly recommend that any family choosing to home educate under the religious exemption clause seek the advise of HSLDA. They have the experience and knowledge to direct your actions properly and with the least conflict.