Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Virginia Education Loophole Tied to Religious Freedom

Think it's a requirement for all children to attend school? Apparently not in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

I just read an interesting article in the Washington Post about families that can keep their children out of school through a law designed to keep the Commonwealth from interfering in the religious preferences of its citizens. According to the article, the principle is that the family ultimately should not be required to send a child to a public school if it violates the tenets of the family's religion.

Home-schooling is not new, folks, and that's not what I'm talking about. Students who are home-schooled must meet the Commonwealth's requirements and reporting structures.

I'm specifically referring to students whose parents choose to not have their children attend Virginia Public Schools by receiving a religious exemption from school altogether. There are no requirements for these families to prove that there is some form of education going on at home, religious or otherwise. Applicants for the exemption do not need to cite a particular faith, but their objections cannot be "political or philosophical in nature." In other words, it can't be because you hate the [INSERT POLITICAL PARTY HERE]. 

But the article states that more and more people are asking for and receiving this exemption for their children. Once the exemption is granted, the Commonwealth has no legal obligation to education the child in the future. 

I'm all for spiritual freedom. I know many students who have been home-schooled for various reasons--some religious and some secular--and have no problem with the practice. What I do have a problem with is what happens to this child if they receive no education whatsoever, since the onus is on the parents. Imagine an 18-year-old who can barely read and write, and who lacks interpersonal skills. Granted, some of you might say, "That's what many high school graduates are like!", but at least teachers that the opportunity to provide an educational foundation to these children. 

I strongly believe that even students who are home-schooled for religious reasons should be required to report into the Commonwealth of what kind of education is occurring for this child. To me, this also has the potential to foster religious extremism in children, and I don't care what religion we're talking about. Zealotry is intolerable in any case.

I would never presume that I know what's best for another's child; it's a very personal decision on the part of the parents. But going this route sets a dangerous precedent, in my humble opinion, to have no accountability whatsoever that this child is ready, from an educational perspective, to join the workforce or attend college at 18. 


  1. This is no different from the system in the State of Arkansas. I homeschooled my own child for 3rd grade and I didn't have to provide a reason at all. All I had to do was sign a waiver saying the State of Arkansas was no longer responsible for his eductaion. I did not have to provide any documentation of how I was schooling him and no one ever asked me any questions during the time I was homeschooling him. I used books I ordered online and we set up the dining room as a classroom, because as it happens I am a qualified teacher...but it would have been all the same if I were a semi-literate user of crystal meth. However, I don't think that most people who have the gumption to find out how to withdraw their child from school then go on to provide nothing for them. And if the state were snooping around in my home school practice, I wouldn't have been any happier with that than I was with the state school education being provided. So there is that point of view. He needed the break from the school environment and went back the next year, and scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests. So no harm done. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

  2. Thanks for your post, Carla! I'm very glad the experience was a good one for your son. :)