Virginia: Can School Districts Write Laws?
by Jim Mason • October 16, 2019
The law that lets local school officials change up the lunch menu does not also empower them to tamper with truancy regulations in a way that puts homeschool families at risk of criminal prosecution.
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That’s what our attorney told a trio of Virginia Supreme Court justices yesterday in hopes of persuading the full court to stop a public school district from inventing its own homeschool requirements.
Home School Legal Defense Association litigation attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole addressed the three-justice writ panel of Virginia’s high court on behalf of the Sosebees, parents who could face criminal charges for refusing to comply with Franklin County’s ad hoc homeschool policy.
In addition to seeking justice for the Sosebees, HSLDA wants the court to hear the case because the outcome could influence jurisdictions far beyond a single county in the state’s southern foothills.
If allowed to stand, the lower court decision “certainly would give ammunition to school boards to try to require more things from homeschoolers than the law allows,” said Kamakawiwoole.
At issue is whether a general statute—which permits local officials to create policies governing things like school cafeterias and discipline codes—also applies to homeschooling.
HSLDA attorney Peter Kamakawiwoole (front, left) took the case of Kirk Sosebee (front, right) to the Virginia Supreme Court. Behind them stand several homeschool families who came to Richmond in support of the Sosebees.
Franklin County claims it does, and a Circuit Court judge agreed.
“What the statute actually says,” explained Kamakawiwoole, “is that schools can make policies as long as they are consistent with state law. But Virginia has a homeschool statute that lists the documents parents must provide local officials in order to fulfill homeschooling requirements. Franklin County’s policy is inconsistent with state law. It’s adding to the homeschool requirements, and only the legislature can do that.”
He added: “The general statute is certainly not for punishing homeschool parents who follow the law.”
The Sosebees’ story began over two years ago, when they filed a notice of intent to homeschool.
Their notice contained all the required information, so the Sosebees were surprised when the superintendent’s office told the family that they also had to submit birth certificates and proof of residency.
These documents are not listed in Virginia’s homeschool statute, but the school committee had adopted their own separate homeschool policy in the summer of 2017 that added these requirements.
The Sosebees’ notice did include their child’s age and home address, but this wasn’t enough for the district.
Going to Court
The Sosebees contacted HSLDA for assistance. Because the Sosebees filed their notice before the policy was changed, Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff was able to persuade the school board to withdraw these demands.
But this was only a temporary solution. The district still insisted the Sosebees would have to submit both proof of residence and birth certificates before the 2018-2019 school year—and all subsequent school years—or be taken to court.
HSLDA challenged the school board’s policy. Unfortunately, in December 2018, the school board convinced a Circuit Court judge that there was nothing wrong with local school committees creating their own homeschool policies.
Should this ruling stand, every other school district in the state could impose additional requirements on parents who wish to homeschool. This could result in 133 different ways to comply with the compulsory education law, and as many ways to be prosecuted for failing to meet these arbitrary standards.
And if school boards in Virginia are granted unfettered power to change their state’s homeschooling requirements, how many school boards in other states will try to claim that same power?
That’s why HSLDA has asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to overturn this dangerous precedent.
Hopefully, we will learn in the next few months whether justices have agreed to hear the case.
Part of a Movement
Meanwhile, we are building support for a broader effort at preserving homeschool freedom in the Old Dominion. Yesterday, at our invitation, several homeschool families from Richmond attended the presentation at the supreme court and met with Woodruff to discuss why the Sosebee case is so important and what individuals can do defend their rights.
According to Kamakwiwoole, the presiding justice noted the homeschool families present and added that he hoped the proceedings would provide a valuable lesson in civics.
None of this would be possible without you! Because of your prayers, financial support, and heart for homeschool freedom, we can come alongside families like the Sosebees, who are willing to stand firm so that other families can teach their children in peace.
Please join us in specifically praying that the Supreme Court of Virginia will hear the Sosebees’ appeal.