The Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia says that the seven thousand-plus children who received religious exemptions from public school attendance during the 2010-2011 school year are not required to show proof of alternative education, effectively allowing parents to withhold their children from schooling of any sort if they wish.
Washington Post reports that there is no follow-up after children are granted the exempt status, as seen below:
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the department presumes that these students are getting some kind of home instruction. But there’s no follow-up reporting.
Home-school advocates say the law is essential to preserving the rights of families who believe that any state control of their children’s education would violate the tenets of their faith.
“This is a very serious decision, not something everyone should do,” said Yvonne Bunn of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. “It is based on sincere religious conviction. If that’s not the case, they need to just comply with the home-schooling law.”
Parents who seek the exemption, Bunn said, “would probably rather go to jail rather than put their children in school, because they have very strong convictions that they’re following what God has directed them to do.”
Another disturbing part of this is that most of the superintendents questioned (95%) in the survey said that they have never denied such an application; “Andrew K. Block Jr., the clinic’s director, says this is likely because most school superintendents feel they are not in a position to question the legitimacy of someone’s religious beliefs, reports the AP.” (Huffington Post)
However, there is good news, as seen on Huffington Post:
Additionally, “If children with religious exemptions are not receiving any education, it could well mean that the statute, as applied, impermissibly violates their fundamental right to an education under the Virginia Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional,” the study states.
Virginia is one of four states that have this type of religious exemption. The Daily Progress reports the following comments by those who conducted the survey:
The study found that 90 percent of responding school divisions failed to have any contact with exempted students. Fewer than 1 percent of responding divisions reported direct contact with the students.
“How can you really test the beliefs of the child without meeting with them?” Block asked. He said that he thinks many school divisions “feel like they lack the necessary guidance for testing the legitimacy of someone’s religious beliefs,” and, as a result, approve most requested exemptions.
“And you really can’t blame them for taking that position, because elected school board officials aren’t any more equipped than you or I to verify the legitimacy of someone’s religious beliefs,” Block said.
The study did not make any specific recommendations, but Block said he hopes policymakers will take notice of its findings and revisit state code.
“We think our research raises a lot more questions than it answers,” Tschiderer said, adding that affected families and religious groups have not had an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.
Religious exemption, while certainly a questionable process, should probably be a right of the parents’. However, the current process is heavily flawed. Education is one of the most important things for a child, and the lack of follow-up or any real investigation is likely allowing many fraudulent claims to come to fruition at the cost of the child.