Virginia Homeschool Privacy Bill Becomes Law Without Governor’s Signature

Published June 26, 2015

Homeschoolers in Virginia are pleased a widely supported privacy measure designed to prevent the sharing of personal information passed with bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 1383, sponsored by state Sen. Dick Black (R-Loudoun), passed the Virginia state legislature in late winter, but awaited a final signature by the governor. Rather than endorse or veto SB 1383, Gov. Terri McAuliffe (D) remained neutral, allowing the bill to pass into law unsigned.

The new law “prohibits a division superintendent or local school board from disclosing any information from a Notice of Intent form or religious exemption letter to the Department of Education or other person or entity,” according to Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV).

Fighting Federal Encroachment

HEAV consulted with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) on drafting the legislation, which Yvonne Bunn, director of legal affairs for HEAV, called an “offensive” against encroaching federal intrusion. Specifically, HEAV responded to the federally funded development of the state’s longitudinal data system. The U.S. Department of Education defines a statewide longitudinal data system as a system used to “capture, analyze, and use student data from preschool to high school, college, and the workforce.”

“We have been concerned about the development of the longitudinal data system,” said Bunn. “We did not want homeschoolers in any way … tracked through a national database.”

Nationwide there has been a growing trend of federal involvement in states’ public education systems, according to HSLDA. The federally backed Common Core standards are in many states implemented alongside data collection programs, which track students through a variety of personal identifiers.

“There is a valid and growing concern that the more information the government collects on citizens, the greater the actual or potential power of government to control them,” said Scott Woodruff, HSLDA senior counsel. “Every barrier we erect that prevents the government from collecting information on citizens helps prevent the expansion of government control over citizens.

“We have recently seen an alarming and unprecedented movement of federal power into the realm of state and local education,” Woodruff said. “This elevates the concerns about loss of privacy and expansion of government control to a whole new magnitude.”

“Homeschooling is a family issue, not a public-school issue,” said Bunn. 

Bipartisan Support

Aside from minor technical changes, the bill remained largely intact through the legislative process and garnered support from both sides of the aisle, Chris Lore, legislative aide to Black, told School Reform News.

“It had pretty good bipartisan support across the board because it’s commonsense legislation,” Lore said. “The specific purpose was to protect privacy. It’s important that localities have access to student [information], but anything other than basic [personal information] should not be passed on to the federal government for any long-term data system. Sen. Black is a small-government conservative, and his concern was this data would be collected on [children] as early as grade school and they would have no rights and no say.”

“[Senate Bill 1383] is well-written and presumably will be interpreted in a reasonable manner,” Woodruff said. “For example, although not written into the bill, it’s obvious that a court could order a school system to disclose information under appropriate circumstances, and it’s obvious that parents can waive their right to privacy if they choose.” 

Common Core Connection

Described by Woodruff as a “federally funded quagmire,” the Common Core standards are a cause for concern among homeschoolers in the state.

“The longitudinal data system is closely linked to the Common Core [standards],” Bunn said. “We do not use Common Core curriculum, and we do not want homeschoolers in any way connected [to it].

“We have been informing parents about the development of the Common Core across the nation, expressing concerns and [explaining] how it could negatively affect homeschooled children and standardized tests. … We encourage parents to use tests that are not aligned [with Common Core],” Bunn said.

Since 2005, 41 states and the District of Columbia have received grants for statewide longitudinal data systems, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. To receive the federal funds, a state must first guarantee its compliance with 12 elements of the America COMPETES Act. 

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by Brad Flickinger.