School Board to Revisit Homeschool Stance After Backlash Prompted by Misinformation

Misinformation about one of the School Board’s legislative priorities has drawn backlash from Loudoun’s homeschool community, prompting board members to reconsider their initial vote on the matter.

The board’s adopted 2019 Legislative Program—which outlines its requests to Loudoun’s delegation in the General Assembly—includes a statement that the board supports a change in state law that would require parents who choose to homeschool their children under the religious exemption to affirm they will uphold their child’s right to an education.

While the item was discussed twice in the Legislative and Policy Committee, it was talked about only briefly with the full board ahead of adopting the final program Nov. 13. Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), who sits on the Legislative and Policy Committee, explained the intent behind adding the item to the board’s program. He said a 2012 study indicated that an oversight in state law could open up the door for families who take the religious exemption to not actually provide an education to their children.

“All this would do is ask that, if you’re claiming a religious exemption, at least affirm that you’re going to educate the child. That’s it,” Hornberger said. “That’s what all of the families who spoke to us tonight do anyway. … I thought that made sense.”

Almost two dozen speakers approached the board Tuesday to voice their opposition to any additional requirements to families opting to homeschool their children because of religious reasons.

Many of the speakers were brought out by a letter written by Del. David LaRock (R-33) sent to constituents and supporters that claimed that the change would require homeschool families to have their curriculum pre-approved by the public schools. Several board members referred to LaRock’s letter as “completely erroneous” and “propaganda,” and said when they provided the correct information to parents of homeschool students, those families understood the board’s intent.

In an interview with Loudoun Now, LaRock later said that he and the senior counsel at Home School Legal Defense Association determined that the way the School Board’s legislative request was worded would essentially repeal families’ rights to claim religious exemption.

“The board’s action item is worded in a way that clouds its true objective,” HSLDA’s senior counsel Scott Woodruff said in a statement emailed to families. He goes on to say that the School Board wants to abolish the religious exemption and only allow children to get an education through “public, private, parochial and/or approved home instruction setting.”

The overwhelming response from families prompted the board to debate the issue past 11 p.m.

Ryan Ash, whose children are homeschooled, said the board is trouncing on a God-given right. “I don’t think the School Board should take on that responsibility to make sure the religious exception has any additional oversight.”

Another parent, JoAnne Elvers, said, “I do not believe it is in the children’s best interest to allow the government to determine where our children will be best educated.”

Rob Shaw-Fuller said that, as Christians, he and his wife believe it is their responsibility to educate their children. “In short, we homeschool our children because it would be sinful for us to do otherwise.”

Several board members said they are in full support of homeschool families and do not want to hinder their right to educate their children. “This was really an intent to make sure the state constitution and the code provisions match up to ensure students are getting an education, nothing more nothing less,” said Rose, but added she is in support of deleting the item from the program. “We can hit the pause button on this, and that doesn’t make us wrong, it makes us responsive.”

“This was never an attack on religious freedoms, it was never an attack on homeschooling,” said Beth Huck (At Large), who added that her brother, who homeschools his children, would disown her if she didn’t support homeschooling families. “It was actually with really good intent to ensure that every child in Virginia has access to an education.”

A motion by Rose to remove the item from the board’s Legislative Program failed on a 4-4 vote. But the majority of the board, with just Tom Marshall (Leesburg) opposed, agreed to send it back to committee for further discussion.

Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) acknowledged that “completely false” information was spread about what the result of any change in legislation would do, saying “The false information was spread rapidly on social media … and we were unable to get our arms around the discussion before it went south.” But, he said, some of the confusion can be cleared up by improving how the board words the item on its Legislative Program.

Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who chairs the Legislative and Policy Committee, asked that the committee’s 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4 meeting be moved to a larger room. “I’m assuming many from the public will come, and I also invite the entire board to come and be a part of the discussion during the committee meeting.”

The full board is not scheduled to meet before it presents its Legislative Program to state senators and delegates at its Legislative Breakfast Dec. 7, so the program will be presented as adopted.

See the full Legislative Program here.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a comment from Del. David LaRock and Home School Legal Defense Association’s senior counsel.

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8 thoughts on “School Board to Revisit Homeschool Stance After Backlash Prompted by Misinformation

  • 2018-11-28 at 5:18 pm

    Our family attended the meeting. We were not misinformed. We learned about the issue from two respected organizations of which we are members–HSLDA and HEAV (not LaRock). Then we did our own homework by reviewing the verbiage in public documents regarding the issue, the original intent, the LCSB legislative agenda, and email responses from board members. Although we personally do not claim this exemption, we believe the right to homeschool via religious exemption does not need to be repealed, amended or clarified.

  • 2018-11-28 at 5:24 pm

    Thank you for covering last night’s School Board meeting. It was a contentious evening, and passions ran high. However, I dispute your characterization of Rep. LaRock’s information to his constituents as “misinformation.” It seems that your reporter interviewed the School Board members but did not take the time to interview a homeschooler or understand our concerns.

    The proposed Action Item includes the following text: “…an alternative public, private, parochial and/or approved home instruction setting.” Homeschoolers like myself ask: Approved by whom? The reason that my family homeschools under the religious exemption is that our children do not belong to the County, the Commonwealth, or any other governmental entity. Our children belong to God, and He has entrusted them to us. Loudoun County does not have the right or the authority to “approve” how we educate our children.

    The proposed change to Virginia’s law might not remove the religious exemption for homeschooling, but it would remove its purpose. In the future, please consider all viewpoints before reporting on such a contentious issue.

  • 2018-11-28 at 5:34 pm

    I fail to see the argument… If you choose to home school, you should have to meet the educational standards that any other credentialed school needs to meet. Simple as that. It isn’t about how you educate, it is about what… Education should be about teaching the basic skills for life, followed by either academics or vocational skills – ideally a balance of both, which include being able to think for yourself as well as be responsible for your actions.

    • 2018-11-29 at 2:41 pm

      My wife and I do not home school our children. We have been extremely happy with Guilford Elementary in Sterling. However many friends of mine home school their children, the curriculum they use is more advanced than what our public schools offer. Many of their older children are attending Harvard, Cornell, UVA etc. They are doing really well. Freedom of choice is good, personally I do not think that it should take a religious exemption to home school. It should just be a choice parents make, but it is not a light choice by any means. It is also expensive, takes a lot of time and effort. The Home school community is really good but its not for everybody.

  • 2018-11-28 at 6:07 pm

    I beg to differ with Ms. Nadler’s characterization of last night’s meeting. I, too, was in attendance. Those who were there and spoke out against this Legislative Action were NOT misinformed. If we were, why did not a single member of the Board make a statement? None of them said a word after public comments. Also, if we were mistaken, why did the Board decide to hold a Legislative Committee meeting next week? Sadly, Ms. Nadler is the only one misinformed here. Next time get the full story before you go to print.

  • 2018-11-29 at 9:32 am

    The title of this article is misleading. As a homeschooling parent I was not misinformed. I understood this was not a repeal of the religious exemption and LaRock was not my source. Actually every homeschooler I spoke to didn’t think this was an outright repeal of the religious exemption but we are concerned it could be used to circumvent the spirit of the religious exemption. I attended the meeting and voiced my concerns to the board. I mentioned that this had been pushed through with little discussion and from what I can tell no consultation with the homeschooling community. Please do not put words in the mouth of the homeschooling community. Our beliefs are not invalid nor our decision to speak towards this decision of the board uneducated or misinformed. Take the time to get to know our view as well – we don’t bite and we actually look a lot like you!

  • 2018-11-29 at 10:13 am

    There has been some misunderstanding about what I said in the School Board meeting on Tuesday night. Here is part of what I said, “The education of our son is extremely important to us. I respect everyone’s God given responsibility to educate their children as is best for their child…While some children may thrive in the public school, I do not believe it is in the children’s best interest to allow the government to determine where our children will best be educated…I am also concerned that children are educated. Taking away this religious exemption is not the answer. Ensuring our children are educated should not strip rights from the parents.”
    While the intentions of the board may be good, the ramifications of this “loophole solution” would put the education of approximately 7,000 at risk. Some children need the personalized tutoring that homeschooling provides. More work needs to be done to find a viable solution to the education of all children in our county.

  • 2018-11-29 at 12:03 pm

    The only “misinformation” is coming from the School Board. I ask again: what is the point of this item on the legislative agenda? What is the LCSB trying to accomplish?

    There is no problem with religious exemption, but there are many very real problems (How many teachers have been arrest at LCPS this year? How many students have been arrested?) and yet the LCSB is wasting time on trying to reign in the highest achieving students in the county.

    There are 24 religious exemption students in Loudoun. Leave them alone and move on to solve real problems.

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