FAQ – Religious Exemption

My husband and I have decided to homeschool under Virginia’s Religious Exemption. Are we legally required to file any paperwork, and if so, what exactly is required?

Virginia’s Religious Exemption (§22.1-254 (B)(1)) reads,

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. For purposes of this subdivision, “bona fide religious training or belief” does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.

The statute does not include any specific language explaining the mechanics of what actions parents and school boards must take in order to comply with the law.  For this reason, some homeschooling families and organizations argue that no action is required on the part of parents in order to educate their children under the Religious Exemption.

VaHomeschoolers, however, strongly encourages Religious Exemption claimants to file a written notification of religious exemption with their local school board.  This is a one-time filing and is handled routinely by school divisions across the state.  We take this position for two reasons:

1.     Written filing is reasonable.  Despite the fact that the statute provides no specific language requiring written notification, VaHomeschoolers is of the opinion that it is reasonable to argue that a school board cannot recognize the religious exemption of families who meet the requirements of the statute unless and until the board has been informed that the family is claiming to meet those qualifications. In other words, how can the school board excuse the student from compulsory attendance without being informed that the family seeks such an exemption?

2.     Written filing is practical.  Families who opt out of compulsory attendance at school under the Religious Exemption without filing written notification may face accusations of truancy, neglect, etc. Even when these charges are unfounded, they are at best, disruptive and at worst, devastating for families so accused.  In addition, families who file a written Religious Exemption claim with their school board may find the board’s formal acknowledgement of their legal status to be useful in certain bureaucratic situations, such as when a teen is enrolling in a driver education program or applying to community college.

You can read more about the nuts and bolts of religious exemption filing at Religious Exemption from Compulsory Schooling.  Please read through the information and let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns.  We have religious exemption families among our past and current Board of Directors and volunteers who can share their personal experiences with the filing process. It is rare to hear of a school division turning down a religious exemption claim.

Can I file a religious exemption if my objections are philosophical?

The religious exemption specifically states that parents who “by reason of bona fide religious training or belief” object to compulsory attendance may seek a religious exemption. Philosophical objections are not included.

Can I file a religious exemption if I do not belong to an organized religion or if I have unconventional religious beliefs?

You do not have to belong to a particular group, sect, church or religion, but you must believe that your deity or Supreme Being requires you to object to compulsory schooling and the foundation of your objection must be spiritual in nature.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law. A financial statement is available from the Virginia Division of Consumer Affairs upon request.

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