What Is the “Religious Exemption”?

Parents who have religious convictions against sending their children to school may consider a claim of Religious Exemption to compulsory schooling.

Families who have received a Religious Exemption are exempt from the Compulsory Attendance Code. Once approved, families with it do not have to file an annual notice of intent, submit an annual description of their curriculum, or submit annual testing or evaluation results to their local school division when educating their children at home.

 How to Claim a Religious Exemption

Send notification of religious exemption with any supporting information and materials to your local school board. Contact information for local school boards can be found here: Virginia School Boards Association.  
Local school board reaction varies; some scrutinize claims, while some do not. Some school divisions have formal written policies on religious exemption claims in their policy manual. You can read more about finding your school division’s local policy manual here: Finding Local School District Policies.
Supporting documents you may want to include:
  • A letter that describes the family’s religious beliefs, particularly including those relating to the education of the family’s children and the spiritual basis for opposing attendance at school
  • Letters from friends, relatives, or members of the faith, that confirm the family’s beliefs.
  • Scriptural or other spiritual quotations, if available, that support or affirm the family’s beliefs
  • A letter from an expert, scholar or a religious leader, if the family has such an authority, that confirm the beliefs as spiritual in nature.

    How Often Do I Have to File Religious Exemption Paperwork?

    Typically, once granted, a religious exemption lasts as long as your child is of compulsory school attendance age. In general, once you have filed for and received a religious exemption, you do not need to file again. However, in recognizing a religious exemption claim, the school board is excusing the child from attendance at school; it is not necessarily excusing the parents or the family as a whole for all time. Therefore a school board may expect, but not require, that the parents re-request for any subsequent children that come of school age. As long as your family’s religious training or beliefs remain unchanged, then your exempt status remains unchanged. (And even if it does, “don’t ask don’t tell”.) Therefore, in VaHomeschoolers’ opinion, a school board may not cancel or withdraw exempt status without cause, nor may they set a date at which an exemption “times out.”

    What If My Family Moves After Obtaining a Religious Exemption?

    A religious exemption is between the family and the school board of the political subdivision (city or county) in which the family resides. Religious exemption families who move to another county or city are advised to inform their new school division in writing of their religious exemption status.

    Does My Family Really Have to File Paperwork to Obtain a Religious Exemption?

    Virginia law does not specify how or when, or even whether, to notify your local school board of your religious objection to compulsory schooling. However, reasonable people can ask how a school board can recognize the religious exemption of qualified persons if the board doesn’t know that they exist and that they are claiming the religious exemption. Families who do not send their children to school using the religious exemption and who do not file with the school board could face civil and criminal process for truancy, neglect, etc.

    Do I Have to Belong to a Particular Religion to Obtain a Religious Exemption?

    Families of every imaginable religious persuasion have obtained religious exemptions in Virginia. You do not have to belong to a particular group, sect, church or religion. A lawyer would have a hay day with any school board that tried to deny your religion as not legit! The school board may not judge your religious beliefs or whether you have always held them, and it doesn’t matter whether other members in your family or of your faith hold the same beliefs. 

    Are There Any Disadvantages to Obtaining a Religious Exemption?

    A religious exemption may limit your family’s future educational options. Once granted, a religious exemption is intended to apply to all the excused children for the duration of their school attendance years. This could be problematic in the future if you ever wish to send one child to public school while continuing to homeschool your other children. This could also be problematic if one of your children needs special education programs or services through the public schools, or wishes to participate in public school classes, programs, or extracurricular activities. If you can imagine a time in the future when your family might need or want public school services for any reason, then the religious exemption may not be the right choice for you.

     Do I need special education to school my kids under a religious exemption?

    Even regular homeschooling laws only require one of these things:

           (i) have a high school diploma,  
           (ii) be a “teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education,” 
           (iii) enroll child in a “correspondence course approved by the Board of Education,”  
           (iv) provide a curriculum or program of study that includes the state standards of learning objectives for language arts and math, (nothing else is mandatory to learn) 
           (v) provide evidence that the “parent is able to provide an adequate education.” (Whatever that means. . .)

    Do I still need to vaccinate my kids like in the schools?

    Virginia’s homeschoolers are technically subject to the same vaccination laws as public school children. . . Proof of vaccination is required though only upon the request of the division superintendent of your local public school. . .which is unlikely in the case of a religious exemption. If you want to play it safe, you should get an exemption or get the vaccinations. (I would HIGHLY recommend the former.)
    Virginia allows exemptions from vaccinations for medical and religious reasons. I would recommend going with the religious one, as no one can dispute that, or define what religious even means. A religious exemption form for immunizations is available through the Virginia Department of Health. To receive a medical exemption from immunizations, contact your local licensed physician or nurse practitioner. (Good luck!)
    This information is provided as a courtesy of VaHomeschoolers. It is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.

    Contact The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers

    General Contact Information
    The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers
    PO Box 5131
    Charlottesville, VA 22905
    Homeschool HelpdeskEmail VaHomeschoolers
    Homeschool Helpline: (866) 513-6173 (A live person will get back with you if you leave a question with your name and number.)