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Parents at odds over children's schooling
Divorced couple at odds over religious exemption

Date published: 4/17/2006


Mark is a divorced New Yorker. His three school-age children live in Fredericksburg with their mother, Kaye. All three have been religiously exempt, against his wishes, from having to attend school.

Mark and Kaye share joint custody of the two girls and a boy, ages 5, 7 and 8. (Mark and Kaye are not their real names; they have been changed to protect their children's privacy.)

According to Virginia law, if parents attest it would violate their religious beliefs to send their child to school, they can remove the child without penalty. Kaye has done so.

And unlike home-schooling parents, Kaye is not required to report her children's academic progress to the state.

Mark said he's going to law school to close the religious exemption "loophole."

After her oldest child spent three months in a Fredericksburg-area public kindergarten, Kaye removed the girl from school. Mark says school records show his daughter was late for kindergarten 17 times during that three-month period. Kaye agrees she was often late bringing their daughter to school, but couldn't recall the frequency. She was newly divorced and having a hard time, she said.

Kaye removed their daughter from kindergarten after being granted the right to home-school her. The following year, school officials granted Kaye's request for religious exemption for all three children.

On a late winter afternoon, Kaye sat in a Fredericksburg coffee shop and defended her decisions.

Kaye and her children practice Messianic Judaism, which she described as "a Jewish tradition in which you believe Jesus to be the promised Messiah." She accepted Christ as her savior at 9, she said.

"I pulled my daughter out of public school from day one because of my religious convictions."

Kaye said she first did so under the home-instruction statute because she didn't know about religious exemption. After joining the Home School Legal Defense Association, she learned more and realized she met exemption criteria, she said.

While Mark, who was living in New York, said he initially agreed to a trial run of home schooling for his oldest, he objected to all three children being granted religious exemption the following year. He believed his ex-wife was lax in educating their firstborn at home the first year.

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From the Compulsory Attendance Statute (22.1-254):

A school board shall excuse from attendance at school:

1. Any pupil, who together with his parents, by reason of 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 merely a personal moral code.