Study questions Virginia's religious exemption statute - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

Study questions Virginia's religious exemption statute

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MIDLOTHIAN, VA (WWBT) -

Thousands of students in Virginia aren't back in school, due to religious exemptions granted by the state.

Supporters say it allows them flexibility to care for their children in a manner in line with their beliefs, while critics say the statute allows too much leniency and not enough follow up.

Sharon Pond's home also serves as a classroom for her three children.

"They are God's, not ours. We're taking care of them for Him, and so as that, it doesn't make any sense for me to send them somewhere where His name is not allowed and worshipped and praised," said Pond.

Pond and her husband educate their children at home under Virginia's religious exemption statute. They are just one of a growing number of families who do. The Ponds make sure their children are getting a good education. However, some parents do not, and according to one study, that may be allowed under one Virginia statute.

"The law, in our view, is unconstitutional and violates the fundamental right to an education," said University of Virginia Law School Child Advocacy Center director Andrew Block.

Block and a few law students recently conducted a study surrounding this statute. According to the study, the statute, which is the only one of its kind in the country, does not require any type of follow up. This means once a family files for religious exemption, the state does not check in to see if the child is receiving any type of education.

Plus, Block says, it places school systems in tough positions.

"It basically says you have to be the arbiter of someone's religious beliefs. And you can imagine school systems don't want to be in that position, so they grant basically every exemption that's requested," said Block.

He says while the religious exemption is well-intended, it needs to be reviewed because without follow-ups, some children may not be getting the education they need for the future.

Meanwhile, Sharon Pond believes if you are going to review one educational statute, review the accountability of all of them.

"I am on both sides of it. I have a master's in education. I worked in the government schools. And there are an awful lot of people in the government schools that aren't doing what they're kids need as well," said Pond.

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