School Board Calls for Change to Religious Exemption
by Scott Woodruff • January 15, 2019
In October, two members of the Loudoun County School Board quietly got the ball rolling on a bid to eliminate or dramatically restrict the ability of parents to homeschool under Virginia’s religious exemption (one of three ways to homeschool lawfully in the state).
Since a school board has no power to change state law, the path board members Tom Marshall and Eric Hornberger chose was to propose asking state lawmakers to do it. The board’s attorney warned them that this might be “misunderstood,” and prove “too controversial.” But Marshall and Hornberger forged ahead with no effort to engage the stakeholders—the large Loudoun County homeschool community.
With no discussion whatsoever, the school board subsequently passed a resolution to ask state lawmakers to file a bill to virtually eliminate the religious exemption.
Standing up for Freedom
Delegate Dave LaRock, whose district includes part of Loudoun County, alerted the homeschool community to the board’s plans. And at the board’s next meeting, homeschool families turned out in large numbers to protest.
Dozens spoke against the board’s plan (during the scant one minute per person the board allowed!). No member of the public spoke in support.
The board refused to back down, but then referred the issue to the Legislative and Policy Committee for additional consideration.
With the homeschool community now fully alerted, hundreds showed up at the committee meeting to voice their opposition. It was standing room only. Astonishingly, the committee refused to allow any of the parents to speak and failed take any meaningful action on the issue.
Lost in the Shuffle
When the time came for the board to meet with state lawmakers to confer and request legislation, it seemed like no board member wanted to mention the religious exemption—which was one of nearly 20 items on their legislative “wish list.” The discussion on these items progressed very slowly. It looked like they would run out of time before they could get around to discussing the religious exemption item—the dead last of the enumerated items on the agenda.
But the representative of an absent lawmaker abruptly jumped the agenda and blurted out, “What about this religious agenda item?” All pandemonium broke out! Soon board members were quarrelling among themselves—and with the lawmakers they had invited! The heated discussion took so much time that many of the board’s legislative wishes never got addressed.
With the board in such disarray, it came as no surprise that no lawmaker who attended the meeting volunteered to file a bill to abolish or alter the religious exemption. And with the 2019 Virginia legislative session now well underway, the likelihood of it happening appears highly remote.