Legal Summaries Religious Exemption in Virginia

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Lesley Hunley

ELS 657


Legal Summaries
Religious Exemption in Virginia

Religious exemption from compulsory attendance in public education may be extended to some religious groups. The “Amish Exception” was established in Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972. The “Amish Exception” states that based on religious reasons, the Amish do not need to attend school beyond the eighth grade. However, Johnson v. Charles City Community Schools Board of Education in Iowa in 1985 determined that the “Amish Exception” did not extend to fundamentalist Baptists because their needs were not significantly different from the religious needs of others (unlike the Amish, who truly live their religion).

In Virginia’s compulsory attendance statute, it states that a school board shall excuse from school attendance any student who, together with his or her parents, has a bona fide religious training or belief that is conscientiously opposed to attending school. However, in order to be bona fide, the religious training or belief cannot be political, sociological, philosophical, or a personal moral code. The Virginia Supreme Court case Johnson v. Prince William County School Board (1991) also established that school boards do not have to state reasons for denying a religious exemption.

Homeschooling in Virginia

The Virginia Code sets requirements for home instruction of children in Virginia. Parents who choose to provide home instruction instead of school attendance must have a high school diploma, have certain qualifications, enroll the child in an approved correspondence course, or provide evidence that the parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child comprised of a curriculum including the standards of learning objectives. Parents have to notify the school superintendent and provide a description of the curriculum and criteria that it has been met. This may include achievement test results or a similar substitute.

In the 1988 case of Murphy v. State of Arkansas, it was found that state standard testing is constitutionally valid to monitor and evaluate the education provided through home instruction. In the Interest of Rebekah T. case, it was found that the home instruction situation was in fact constituting statutory abuse and neglect. Therefore, the state has the ultimate responsibility to protect the child. Ultimately, parents have a right to send their children to non-public schools but do not have the right to be completely unfettered by regulations as to the quality of the education provided.

Education of Homeless Children

With the new McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that is attached to the No Child Left Behind Act, federal law states that school districts must make appropriate provisions for the education of homeless students. States are to revise any school attendance laws or other laws that may act as barriers to enrollment, attendance, or success in school of homeless children. This goes as far as including transportation from a child’s current place of residency to his or her school of origin, as arranged and agreed upon by the two local education agencies. Litigation brought by the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty (2004) has interpreted the law to allow parents/guardians to choose the school of origin, provide immediate assistance in obtaining necessary immunizations and medical records, provide immediate enrollment in the school in which it is sought, and provide transportation to and from school. In order to provide free and equal public education, exceptions can be made for the homeless in state and local residency and domicile requirements because of the McKinney-Vento act.

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