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March 23, 2001

Louise T's grandchildrenLet My People Go!
Richmond Grandmother Goes Free

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA—Louise T. fought the Richmond Public Schools for years to get an adequate education for her grandchildren, without success. She finally decided it was a sin to send these children to those schools, and started teaching them at home. Richmond responded by filing criminal charges against her, because she was the children's legal guardian.

Louise was not alone when she appeared before the Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Thursday, March 23, 2001. The presiding elder of her church was there, along with a number of her faithful friends and supporters. Karen Mann of the New System School was ready to testify on Louise's behalf. Louise's daughter, the mother of the children, was there to tell the court that she wanted her children taught at home. HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville was there to defend Louise's right to educate the children at home.

Things looked bad at first, as the school officials testified that the children had not been in school all year. Judge Richard Taylor allowed the school to present its case, and then it was the defendant's turn. Louise, through her attorney, explained that she had been teaching the children all year long, and that she had enrolled the children in the New System School, an "umbrella school" with members all over America. Attorney Somerville explained that the New System School operated under the private school law, but that in Virginia, New System families could also claim a religious exemption from the compulsory attendance law.

Judge Taylor carefully examined the religious exemption documentation that most Virginia New System School families submit, but he had an additional concern. Virginia law says, "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." Virginia Code § 22.1-254(B)(1). The judge was convinced that Louise believed it would be a sin to send these children to public school, but the law refers to "parents," not "guardians."

Judge Taylor asked whether the children's mother knew about the plan to educate the children at home as part of the New System School. Attorney Somerville called Miss T. to step forward. With genuine concern, Judge Taylor inquired, "Do you understand that your children are being educated by their grandmother for religious reasons? Is that what you want?"

"I do understand," the children's mother assured him. "That's what I want!"

The judge was convinced. He ordered the case "continued" until April 23, 2001 to give Louise an opportunity to fill out the religious exemption paperwork that had been shown him in court. He ordered the case to be automatically dismissed on April 23 if the completed paperwork had been submitted to the Richmond Public Schools and copied to the court.

The last word in this story belongs to Louise, who called attorney Somerville that evening to thank him for defending her. "I appreciate all you did," she said, "but I wouldn't be the person I am if I didn't insist that all the glory for this victory belongs to our great God Jehovah!"

 Other Resources

More information on the Commonwealth v. Louise T case