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Last night at a packed meeting in Northern Virginia, the Loudoun County School Board (LCSB) considered the future of a resolution asking the state government to repeal the religious exemption for homeschooling families. According to social media posts from concerned citizens in attendance, the board may put it to a vote at a future meeting to change the proposal, only hearing public comments limited to one minute at the 6:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.

Members of the LCSB are planning to meet with General Assembly lawmakers on December 7 to ask them to repeal the exemption. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), on November 13 the board unanimously adopted a motion that made the measure an “action item,” meaning the board is seeking legislation to repeal Virginia’s religious exemption. No discussion periods or members consulting with the parents of homeschooled children were conducted, causing outrage with some in the community.

One Facebook user described that when “attending the Loudoun County School Board meeting tonight, it seemed like we were in Portland [Oregon].” He said about two-thirds of the responses to the board during the public comment section of the meeting were dedicated as an opposition to the potential weakening of the religious exemption of homeschoolers.

The audience was also reportedly “admonished” beforehand not to cheer, but were “encouraged to use jazz hands.”

According to the LCSB’s meeting minutes from October 11, the Legislative and Policy Committee met to engage in a discussion for proposed recommendations for the “2019 Legislative Program.”

One of the board’s priority positions is:

“Supports legislation to strengthen Code of Virginia 22.1-254 (B)(1) by requiring all declarations of notices of intent to seek religious exemption from school attendance by parents or legal guardians to present their petition(s), in person, accompanied by their child/children for whom the exemption is requested, to a school official designated by the superintendent.”

The Loudoun County School Division had 911 (K-5th grade), 404 (6th grade-8th grade), and 426 (9th grade-12th grade), excused home instruction absences outside of state-mandated “compulsory attendance” for schoolchildren as of May 1, 2018, as reported by the board.

As stated in an email from one of the members of the LCSB, a change for Virginia Code § 22.1-254(B)(1) is that the school board shall excuse:

“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.”

As well, homeschooled Virginians would have state-approved guidelines as to measure progression and academic success in their later years to promote alternative education standards. These include preparatory programs, counseling, education credentials, and high school equivalency exams, all of which will be determined by the Virginia Board of Education.

Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) echoed this on his campaign website two weeks ago, saying the resolution “would force homeschoolers to have their curriculum pre-approved by the public schools.” He added the measure would, “prohibit [their] currently-legal right to self-defense in certain public buildings…adopt pro-LGBT special treatment for school employees.”