Thousands of the state's students were excused from mandatory school attendance during the 2010-11 school year due to religious exemptions, according to a study by the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia law school. But once a family receives the exemption, parents are not required to show proof of alternative education.
Under state code, parents who believe their children’s enrollment in a secular school will contradict the family’s religious beliefs can seek an exemption from compulsory education.
The Daily Progress reports Virginia is one of four states that provides an explicit religious exemption, and is the only state that does not require exempted students to satisfy any educational requirements, such as enrollment in a home-schooling program.
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the department presumes that exempted students are receiving some sort of home instruction, though there is not any follow-up reporting to confirm this assumption, the Associated Press reports.
Yvonne Bunn of the Home Educators Association of Virginia told the AP parents who seek the exemption “would probably rather go to jail rather than put their children in school, because they have very strong convictions that they’re following what God has directed them to do.”
Exemptions are granted or denied by local school boards. According to the study, nearly 95 percent of survey respondents said they had never denied a request for one.
Andrew K. Block Jr., the clinic’s director, says this is likely because most school superintendents feel they are not in a position to question the legitimacy of someone’s religious beliefs, reports the AP.
In 2010-11, 7,296 students were granted religious exemptions, up from 5,479 during the 2002-03 school year. According to Block, 7,000 represents more than the number of students enrolled in three-quarters of the school divisions in Virginia, and more than those enrolled in Charlottesville.
Additionally, “If children with religious exemptions are not receiving any education, it could well mean that the statute, as applied, impermissibly violates their fundamental right to an education under the Virginia Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional,” the study states.
In Missouri, an amendment passed by voters last month reaffirmed students' right to pray in schools. But another part of the amendment reads, "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs."
Critics said the clause will create confusion by giving students the power to refuse completing assignments they claim violate their religious beliefs.
In January 2012, parents of students at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Norcross, Ga. expressed outrage over the school district's response to reports of using examples of slavery in math word problems. The word problems in questions include references to slavery and "beatings."
In March 2012, students at another Georgia school were given a math problem that referenced slavery, upsetting students and parents. Nearly 140 fourth grade students at James A. Jackson Elementary School contained an extra-credit question that read, "A plantation owner had 100 slaves. If three-fifths of them are counted for representation, how many slaves will be counted?"
In February 2012, Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa received criticism for a class assignment on the Cold War. Based on a worksheet handed out in a social studies class, many questioned whether the lesson promoted communism over capitalism, calling it "communist indoctrination."
A Washington, D.C. teacher was fired from Center City Public School's Trinidad campus in March 2012 for sending home violent, morbid and traumatizing math problems to third graders. Questions included story lines about baking humans in ovens and a child waking up screaming after thousands of fire ants made a nest in a human brain.
A teacher was suspended and handed disciplinary action in March 2012 for a question she wrote on a vocabulary quiz that some argued was racist. When district officials reviewed the test in context, however, the charges against her were rescinded.
Sawgrass Elementary School in Sunrise, Fla. made the news in April 2012 when a second grade student was included in a class photo despite not having turned in a parental consent form. Instead of retaking the photo, the photographer resolved to paste a brown-colored smiley face over the boy's face.
A letter sent home with students at Western Union Elementary School in North Carolina didn't sit well with parents in March 2012. The note asked students to wear "African American attire" or animal print for a Black History Month event, calling into question educators' choice of words and cultural sensitivity.
In April 2012, flyers with an image of Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis in a Ku Klux Klan robe sparked controversy in the community. The bill was in response to a contentious school redistricting plan that would have closed several schools in a number of Atlanta's black neighborhoods.