The Goochland School Board sparked national controversy recently with their religious exemption policy that would have required students who were 14 years and older to personally attest to their religious beliefs in order to be home educated under the religious exemption section of Virginia law.
The controversy was ignited when some Goochland parents who home educate under the religious exemption Virginia statute recently received a letter asking that their children make the argument for why they should be schooled under the religious exemption statute. They had thirty days to comply or potentially face prosecution. Many of these parents had been homeschooling under the religious exemptions for years.
On Tuesday night the school board met to review the policy that had created local, state and national outcry from homeschool parents. In addition to the numerous parents who testified they heard from experts on the law, Yvonne Bunn of Home Educators Association of Virginia and Scott Woodruff of Home School Legal Defense Association. Both testified to the fact that the Goochland religious exemption policy clearly violated state law. WRIC and WTVR did a good job reporting on the story.
Joe Guarino, who is a homeschool parent and former president of Richmond Tea Party gives the following detailed account.
The Goochland County School Board voted unanimously [Radtke note: actually it was 4-1] to repeal its Religious Exemption policy. They also voted unanimously to replace it with a much friendlier policy that comports with state law. By their own rules, however, the new policy will have to be read a second time before final approval will be official.More than 250 concerned citizens–almost all home educators–filled every available seat in the Main Conference Room of the Goochland County School Administration Building and satellite rooms for overflow attendance. Solidarity was definitely evident as home educators from all over the Central Virginia area came to participate in and witness this truly historic gathering. Approximately three dozen individuals spoke during the three hours plus of public comment period, each one usually taking up at least their allotted four minutes of time to speak.Scott Woodruff, legal counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, spoke early and authoritatively addressed many of the board members’ concerns. Then he and the school board chairman, District 3 Member John Lumpkins, sparred for another 15 minutes. Yvonne Bunn, director of legislative affairs for Home Educators Association of Virginia for 16 years, confidently spoke to the issue at hand. She later told me that she has never seen this number of people attend a meeting dealing with the Religious Exemption statute.Doug Pruiett, who gained national attention on Fox News last week, spoke calmly yet passionately about his plight. Goochland Schools told him he must complete the forms for the recent Religious Exemption policy or face criminal prosecution. He looked at the various people on the dais and shared how he knew them. “My children babysit your children. We work out together. I helped you on your campaign.” And then he said, “I’m hurt.” Before he sat down, he asked everyone present who opposed the policy to stand. The entire room stood. As he returned to his seat, he drew a standing ovation.Shortly after 10 pm, more than three hours after public comments began, the board finally began discussing the policy. District 4 Member Elizabeth Hardy began by sharing her desire to fix the policy, but didn’t quite know what to offer at the moment. Then District 5 Member John Wright made no mistake about the fact that he would like to repeal the policy immediately. Seeing that and raising the stakes, District 1 Member Michael Payne not only immediately agreed with Mr. Wright but made a motion not only to repeal the current policy but to replace it immediately with a policy that seemed to comport with the Virginia Code dealing with Religious Exemption.Once discussion on the motion began, it became evident all were in favor of repealing the current policy. Mr. Lumpkins, however, pointed out that the board’s rules required two readings of all policies for consideration unless a unanimous vote supported waiving the second reading. Four agreed to waiving; Mr. Lumpkins was the lone dissent. The board will therefore have to read the policy at the next regular policy meeting scheduled for Jan. 27. Mr. Pruiett came forward and asked each one of them if they would vote for the new policy in two weeks. They all nodded or said yes.As soon as the repeal-and-replace votes were completed, District 4 Member Kevin Hazzard made a motion to discontinue immediately any actions related to the just-repealed policy so that the Pruietts would be relieved of worrying any more about criminal prosecution. That motion was made, seconded, not even discussed, and passed in less than 30 seconds.Home educators banded together, articulated their views, prayed together, and removed an egregious policy.