What Is the “Religious Exemption”?

Parents who have sincere religious convictions against sending their children to school may consider a claim of Religious Exemption (RE) to compulsory schooling under §22.1-254 B 1 of the Code of Virginia.

The statute, §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.

Facts About Religious Exemption

  • There are 15 states whose laws allow parents to simply provide notification of their intent to educate their own children, without any subsequent oversight of educational progress by the state.
  • An additional 11 states allow parents to home educate with no notice and no oversight.
  • Thus, families educating under Virginia’s Religious Exemption, who must provide notification to the local school board, but not reports of educational progress, are subject to the same level or more regulation as all homeschooling families in 26 other states.
  • Claims made in the supporting clauses of HJ92, and subsequently picked up in various media outlets, that Virginia’s Religious Exemption to Compulsory Attendance is unique in terms of the amount of state oversight applied to families that choose this home education option are not based in fact.
  • What is unique about Virginia’s Religious Exemption to Compulsory Attendance is its recognition of religious freedom – not its recognition of parents’ rights and responsibility to oversee their own children’s educations.
  • Article VIII, Section 1 of Virginia’s Constitution requires that “the General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age…” and ensure that such schools provide “an educational program of high quality,” but does not require citizens to choose that public education for their children, and does not transfer to the General Assembly the responsibility for ensuring that all children receive an education in line with that provided by the public schools. Virginia’s parents are entrusted with rights and responsibilities regarding the appropriate educational methods, content and environment for their children. Those options include public school, private school, home instruction, private tutors, and religious exemption.
  • There is no evidence that homeschooled students in states with higher accountability requirements have better outcomes than homeschooled students in states with fewer (or no) academic performance reporting requirements.
  • Even as home education in Virginia is growing overall at a much higher rate than public school enrollment, most homeschoolers in Virginia choose to educate their children under the Home Instruction Statute (which requires notification and educational monitoring) rather than the RE.  For more statistics regarding the RE, see below.

Religious Exemption, Home Instruction and Public School Enrollment, 2000-2013

K-12 data from the Virginia Department of Education from 2000 to 2013 indicate that: The population of homeschooling students (under the Home Instruction Statute and the RE together) has grown over fourteen times more than the growth of the population of public school students – 108.7% vs. 7.6%.

  • Overall, homeschooling under the Home Instruction Statute has grown significantly more – over 65% more — than has homeschooling under the RE (108.7% vs. 43.6%).
  • The number of students under the RE has not uniformly increased on an annual basis. Numbers actually dropped slightly from 2006/7 to 2007/8, from 2010/11 to 2011/12, and from 2011/12 to 2012/13. The number of home-instructed students grew over each of those periods.
  • The number of RE students in 2012/13 was lower than it has been since 2005/6.