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Religious exemption wins narrow approval







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Warren County School Board passes modified regulation to excuse students

By M.K. Luther-mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Warren County School Board on Thursday narrowly approved a modified regulation for religious exemption from mandatory school attendance.

The School Board voted 3-2 to approve an exemption regulation that does not require parents to submit a letter explaining religious beliefs.

Board chair Roy K. Boyles and Vice Chair Joanne Cherefko voted against approval.

"If a parent has strong enough religious belief to apply for a religous exemption, I don't see why they should have a problem putting it in writing," Boyles said, reading from a prepared statement prior to the vote.

Cherefko in July had asked for an amended policy requiring a letter of description of beliefs for parents to claim an exemption.

The requirement of a letter had drawn criticism from homeschooling families who said the provision was an infringement on religious freedoms.

Boyles also said schools Superintendent Pamela McInnis had originally asked the board to put the religious exemption policy in writing for clarification and consistency.

"There have been several challenges," Boyles said. "First, the legislation on this subject is vague. Second, the department of education has done nothing to help school boards clarify and determine its own regulation. I believe that is where the problem lies -- at the state level."

In October, McInnis asked the board to remove the requirement of the letter before moving forward with the regulation.

Several homeschooling advocates, Catholic and Protestant parents who already claim a religious exemption, spoke in favor of the amended regulation. Mary Kay Clark of Seton Home Study School, and Councilman Thomas H. Sayre, also asked the board to approve the regulation.

Bill Piercall and Connie Morrison-Henry, who have been campaigning for the board to approve an exemption regulation and policy that would call for more examination from the board, again spoke against the modification.

"As school board members, you are expected put education first and to do what is best for the children, and not just for a certain group of children in our community,"
Morrison-Henry said. "What is best for all children, not what is easiest for the parents and not what is best for your political agenda or what is best for local businesses in our area."

Sayre pointed to the success of his own homeschooled children and said that parents claiming a religious exemption should not be punished for the possible actions of a minority who could misuse the exemption.

"What it is, it is a small percentage, probably .001, that abuses the system," Sayre said. "And don't take that one rotten apple in the barrel and take the one rotten apple and say we are going to throw out the whole barrel."


8 Comments



I agree with Mr. Boyles. If a parent feels that strongly about their religion, then surely they have the ability to explain those beliefs coherently in a letter. If they can't do that, then exactly what education are they going to be giving their children. This country needs to stop priding themselves on ignorance and strive to get the best education there is. Unfortunately that's rarely found in the home environment.

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And you base your opinion about the home environment on what? Home Schooled children ranked 18 to 28 percentile points above public school averages on the SAT. This was a survey performed in conjunction in with the Psychological Corporation in 1991, which is the publisher of the test itself.
So much for your theory that the government has the best education system. My daughter was home schooled, got her GED, and is now in her second year at GMU. It is really none of the schools business as to what people want to teach their children. They have the right to a religious exemption and I am glad they use it. Besides, people can also use an approved tutor, or they can apply under the home school rule. Should they also have to justify themselves?

While you bring up a good point JackieBlue, there is a very good reason the homeschooling community is fighting this. In truth this has nothing at all to do with explaining one's beliefs.
In the past, school boards have "decided" that people were not religous enough so they denied the families their right to educate their children.

As far as you statement, "This country needs to stop priding themselves on ignorance and strive to get the best education there is. Unfortunately that's rarely found in the home environment" The facts do not support your statement. Homeschoolers consistantly score dozens of points highter on standerdized tests than their public school counterparts, they are over 70% more likely to be involved in politics and community projects, and are activily sought out by colleges now for both their academic as well as social activities (including sports, community service and the like).

Sayre's argument does not withstand scrutiny. Not only is the system abused, it is abused regularly. The approved regulation modification was not crafted to prevent the abuse, it actually makes abuse easier. An atheist can now receive a religious exemption. A pedophile can hide an abused child from discovery by school authorities.

Abuse of the system less than one time in a thousand is not the proper benchmark to create a law or regulation. If that line of reasoning were true we would not need laws against murder if less than one rotten apple in the barrel murders someone.

The School Board has made a tragic mistake that increases the risk of abused children to remain undiscovered.

The debate is not at all about your kid is better than his kid, or one form of schooling is perceived to be superior to others, or your kid is smarter than their kid. This debate is also NOT about religious freedoms.

The debate has only two issues.

1. Does a parent have a right to avoid compulsory attendance at school?
2. Does a parent have a right prevent his child from attending school of any description?

The state says NO. Some citizens say Yes because they claim their religion says so. In my opinion, these individuals are short on providing any proof supporting the claim.

Religious Exemption from compulsory school attendance exists primarily to accommodate the Amish faith whose doctrine stops all formal education after completion of the eighth grade. No religion is now being practiced in Warren County whose religious doctrine prevents children from receiving an education. If one exists in Warren County, will someone please mention it here.

You can't, because it does not exist. Local religious groups supporting religious exemptions bend over backwards to re-direct this debate away from the 2 core issues of state law compelling compulsory attendance and instead redirect the conversation into red herring topics.

The Roman Catholic faith and the Episcopalian faith do not have a religious doctrine that allows parents to avoid compulsory attendance at school or to avoid educating their children. If one exists in Warren County, will someone please mention it here.

To the contrary, these 2 faiths compel parents to educate their children and also compel training in the faiths' religious philosophies. Obviously, the requirement for religious training can not be met by the public school system, but can be accomplished by a parent choosing one of the 5 other compulsory attendance choices the state provides for a parent to meet the compulsory attendance law. Parents may:
1. Send their child to a private denominational school
2. Send their child to a parochial school
3. Have their child taught by a qualified tutor
4. Have their child taught by a qualified private teacher
5. Provide for home schooling

Isn't it obvious a parent who home schools already meets the compulsory attendance law and thereby negates any need for a religious exemption from compulsory attendance?

These 5 choices meet the Catholic and Episcopalian faith's requirements a child receive a religious based education. Both religions own and operate religious schools licensed and approved by the state. Will someone please explain the need to avoid compulsory school attendance or why their children can not attend school?

Nowhere does the state provide parents with the choice of NOT educating their child. If one exists, will someone please mention it here.

As now written, the Warren County regulation for religious exemption from compulsory school attendance allows children to be hidden from mental health authorities and school officials. Without an education, without the ability to read or write, what skills will an illiterate child bring to his first job application?

What possible reason does the School Board have to prevent a child from being educated? More importantly, what reason does any parent have to prevent his child from being educated?



"MrsDani said "In the past, school boards have "decided" that people were not religous enough so they denied the families their right to educate their children."

I believe you base your comment on a misunderstanding of the 1991 Virginia Supreme Court decision "Johnson v. Prince William County School Board". In this decision, Johnson claimed his religious beliefs allowed him to keep his children out of school, avoiding Virginia's compulsory attendance law. Johnson proceeded to cite a number of religious reasons he believed justified his position. After carefully weighing Johnsons' evidence, the court disagreed with all of Johnson's claims.

The court did not question how religious Johnson believed himself to be. The Court did not question the sincerity of his beliefs. The Court stated, based on the information provided by Johnson, they found it difficult to determine what Johnson's religious beliefs actually were and Johnson failed to demonstrate any of his stated beliefs were supported by his church's doctrine. Therefore Johnson's beliefs were not bona fide, but instead were essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.

For example, Johnson claimed his religious beliefs provided that he and he alone could educate his children; nobody else could do the actual teaching or provide the education. Upon questioning by the Court, Johnson admitted he had other people educate his children.

The Court questioned whether the church's religious doctrine supported Johnson's desire to keep his children from attending school. The Court properly decided Johnson failed to meet the state requirements for exemption from compulsory attendance. Johnson was represented in this case by the Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA did not appeal the Virginia Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. HSLDA had already agreed with Virginia the case was not about First Amendment religious freedom rights. How could HSLDA now claim at this late hour, 2010, it is a First Amendment issue?

If it is, they simply need to appeal the Johnson decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, not the Warren County School Board.

JackieBlue and Bill Pierceall have it right.

Let no child fall through the cracks.

There are plenty of good home schoolers out there. They win most of the spelling bees. But unless you are naive, you must understand that there are parents who keep their kids out of school for the parent's good.

Let them write an essay. Maybe it will trip up the bad guys, and let us bring a child into the light.

The couple who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart for example. They weren't home schooling for religious reasons...

"There have been several challenges," Boyles said. "First, the legislation on this subject is vague. Second, the department of education has done nothing to help school boards clarify and determine its own regulation. I believe that is where the problem lies -- at the state level."

Yes, I attempted several years ago to put in for religious exemption to teach my children at home and instead received a letter from my local school district threatening me with truancy. The power in this option for homeschooling is all with the public school district and if the person in that office is anti-homeschooling than they will do everything they can to deny parents.

My situation with being new to the area meant that I didn't have letters from friends and a priest to submit and even with a 3 page letter quoting papal encyclicals stating the responsibility of parents to be the first teachers for their children didn't prove to the school district my "fervor." "Why don't you send them to the local Catholic school?" Well, because they are Catholic-in-name-only and they cost a fortune.

Luckily for me we are fully enrolled with a program on the state approval list and didn't need the district's approval after all. When I mentioned this fact, the superindent's office staff called off their attack, but the fact that the law is not clear and seems to give too much power to the local district is a real problem across the state of Virginia.



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