Va. Family Fights for Exemption, Says Standardize Tests Impede on their Religious Beliefs

By: Mona Abdi, WSET
By: Mona Abdi, WSET

CAMPBELL COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- A battle is brewing in Campbell County over home schooling, religious beliefs, and one family's desire to make a change.

Jeff and Stephanie Dent are Universalists who have home schooled their kids for almost three years. In the past, their children have taken the required standardized tests. Now, they want to opt out for religious reasons.

Virginia's code on religious exemption is purposefully vague. It leaves it to each locality's school board to determine whether a family's bona fide religious beliefs grant them an exemption from standardized tests. The Dent family says Campbell County's method is flawed and discriminatory. The Dent family has home schooled their 8 and 9-year-old boys since 2012.

"Aside from reading, writing and arithmetic everything else is done as much as humanly possible in real life" said Jeff Dent. As Universalists, they find truth in all faiths. “We do both prayer and meditation. A lot of it happens in vivo when you're outside with the chickens and you hear a breeze go through the trees" said Stephanie Dent.

By law, the Dents must, each year, provide the division superintendent evidence of their children's academic achievements. In the past, they've done that through standardized tests; however, this year they requested their children be exempt from those tests, due to their religious beliefs. "Being subjected to the test itself makes them feel like they are being scrutinized. For them, spiritually, right now, it doesn't feel right" said Stephanie Dent.

The Assistant Superintendent asked the Dents for notarized statements from their minister and other non-relative adults who can testify to the validity of their religious beliefs. That's not the law, just the procedure the county has established; however, the Dents don't have a pastor.

They no longer attend the local Universalist church. Stephanie Dent says the Assistant Superintendent told her that, without those letters, he will recommend the board deny their request.

"It kind of seems like they are assuming that we might be lying" said Jeff Dent. The Assistant Superintendent couldn't speak on the Dents' situation.

He says the state leaves it to the county school board to grant these exemptions and they do that through those notarized statements.

"That really separates those who congregate from those who do not, instead of recognizing their personal religious belief" said Stephanie Dent. They will state their case in front of the Campbell County School board in September. If denied, they have the option to appeal to circuit court.

The Dents say they will consider that option, if they are denied.


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