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What’s Going on in Danville?

by Scott Woodruff • December 17, 2019

When the Danville School Board wrongfully denied Rick Fain’s religious exemption from compulsory education laws in 2015, we took the board to court. On December 6 of this year, the board reversed its denial and granted the family’s exemption. Here’s the rest of the story.

In 2015, I advised the Fains as they submitted documentation of their exemption. Everything was in order, and I expected the board to grant the exemption in due course.

I was surprised when the board asked the family to clarify what belief of their organized religion stipulated that their children could not attend school. I helped the Fains write a reply explaining that their beliefs opposing school attendance were personal, and not necessarily shared by members of a particular religion. Virginia law protects personal, individual religious convictions the same as convictions that are shared by others.

Standing up for Their Rights

Instead, the board denied their exemption. On behalf of the family, HSLDA brought a lawsuit that went to trial in December 2016. We were hopeful that the board would change its course—but things did not progress until this fall, when the board agreed to reconsider the Fain’s request and ultimately granted the exemption.

Since the board has now done what we went to court to compel them to do, the lawsuit is no longer necessary and we will dismiss it.

This is great news, but while we’re glad that the Fains have secured their religious exemption, there are concerns as well. During the 2018-19 school year, in the nearby counties of Pittsylvania, Halifax, Campbell, Bedford, Franklin, and Henry, families homeschooling under the religious exemption averaged 31% of the total number of families who homeschooled (with a high of 52% and low of 18%). But in Danville, they comprised only 1.6% of homeschooling families.

Troubling Trend

This also doesn’t appear to be just a city-versus-county issue. In the nearby city of Martinsville, religious-exempt families composed 20% of the homeschooling total. Prior to the 2018-2019 school year, Danville had not granted any religious exemptions for the previous five years, despite being home to hundreds of homeschooling families.

We are hopeful that the Fain family’s exemption signals a shift in the way that Danville will handle religious exemptions moving forward, but time will tell.

Meanwhile—if you live in Danville, don’t be afraid. Just as we did for the Fains, we are prepared to advocate for your rights and help make homeschooling possible for you.

Scott Woodruff

Senior Counsel

Scott is a seasoned attorney and homeschool advocate with decades of involvement in homeschool legal issues and cases. Read more.

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