Prince Edward school board sets rules for religious exemption

Published 2:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

If parents want their child not to attend school in Prince Edward County Public Schools, citing a religious exemption, then they have to give the district something in return. The Prince Edward school board amended their religious exemption policy during their Wednesday, Jan. 17 meeting, which was pushed back a week due to winter weather. 

In some ways, the school board agreed to streamline the process. Under the old guidelines, the district required a full application be submitted each year by the parents, going over their case in detail. Now, that application will just be required once and kept on file. Instead of a yearly application, the district is just requiring that parents send a yearly letter of intent, confirming that they still plan to keep the student out of school for religious purposes. 

“We are simply saying no matter what the reason, we need a letter of intent annually,” Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson told the board. “Not an application annually but a letter of intent. According to our attorney, a school division has the right to ask for that because a school division is responsible ultimately for children attending school.”  

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Board members asked if the change meets 100% the letter of the law. Johnson said yes, adding that it had been vetted with the district’s law firm multiple times. 

What is required? 

If you want your child not to attend school in the district on religious grounds, the first step is an application. The parents have to give the name and birth date of each child that lives at home, then explain if attending public school violates the family’s religious beliefs. Third, they have to answer if it’s “your belief that your children should not attend public school based on a specific religious teaching, or is it based on your personal moral, political, philosophical or sociological beliefs?”

Under the new policy, those questions will only need to be answered one time. 

“The application is submitted only once and as part of that application, you need to answer questions 1, 2 and 3,” Johnson said. “But after that, you only have to submit a letter of intent. If you are not sending your child to a public school, you have to send a letter of intent annually.”  

That application then goes before the school board for consideration. If parents don’t fill out the application or ignore some of the questions, then Prince Edward’s policy states that “could result in a finding that the parents are in violation of state compulsory education laws.”