When a family in Virginia’s Prince William County switched to homeschooling last August, they were hardly alone.
It’s no secret that homeschooling has exploded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The anecdotal evidence came early—in the form of public opinion polls and crashing websites. As we got deeper into the school year, public school enrollment numbers rolled in, and they were trending down.
Like many first-time homeschoolers, this Virginia family was new to the process.
But they did their homework, filed a notice of intent with their local school board, purchased curriculum, joined Home School Legal Defense Association, and got their ducks in a row. When the school year began in September, they took the plunge.
Fast-forward three months, when our member family received a summons to juvenile court from their public school district. The charge? Their child hadn’t been in school since September.
Confused, the parents reached out to the district’s attendance officer and provided a copy of the notice of intent they had filed in August. The attendance officer replied that the papers were already filed in court, and it was up to the court how to proceed.
Preparing a Defense
So the family came to HSLDA. Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff and I worked with the family to collect proof that their child had been educated. It wasn’t hard to collect.
In addition to their notice of intent, the family had attendance records, work samples, and even a letter from two county school officials verifying that they had complied with Virginia’s homeschool statute for the 2020–21 school year.
With this information in tow, I approached the prosecutor to see if we could resolve the misunderstanding ourselves, without a judge. After reviewing the information the family had gathered, the prosecutor agreed that the family was clearly in compliance with Virginia’s homeschool law (a recent decision from the Virginia Supreme Court certainly helped clarify that point) and dismissed the case.
It appears there was a breakdown in communication between the school board (which received the family’s notice in this case), and the school district (which monitors public school attendance).
The board knew the family was homeschooling, but that wasn’t passed along to the attendance officer. So when the child was mistakenly considered “absent” for several months, officials took the family to court.
Breakdowns like that are unfortunate but probably predictable, given the sheer volume of families who made the switch to homeschooling this year. That’s why we recommend that Virginia parents who withdraw their children from public school also send a written notice to that effect directly to the school they are withdrawing from, and that they do so at the same time they file their notice of intent to homeschool with their local superintendent.
It’s not legally required, but it’s a good practice. That way, everyone knows what’s going on, no one gets marked “absent” by mistake, prosecutions like this one can be avoided, and you can focus on what really matters: teaching and growing with your kids.