ANALYSIS OF JUNE 11, 2020 SUPREME COURT OPINION
(Posted June 11, 2020) The Supreme Court of Virginia today hands a victory to homeschooling parents in Sosebee v. Franklin County School Board. As provided by statute, the parents gave timely notice to the division superintendent of their plan to homeschool their children. But the school board had implemented a regulation that also required that parents furnish a birth certificate and proof of residence as a condition of home-schooling approval. This notice had neither of those two components.
The parents filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The circuit court ruled in favor of the school board, holding that the new policy wasn’t contrary to the statutory requirements for homeschooling. The court also pointed to another statute that authorizes school divisions to promulgate policies to manage schools.
Today the Supreme Court unanimously reverses and directs entry of an injunction against the school board. The chief justice’s opinion notes that school boards, as creatures of statute, must adhere to the powers enumerated in the Code. This is an application of the Dillon Rule. Because nothing in the Code provides that homeschooling parents must provide birth certificates or proof of residence, the school board exceeded its statutory grant of authority in requiring them.
There may be a subtext to this litigation. Most parents wouldn’t think twice about providing a certificate and some form of proof of residence. This case might be a part of the national discussion of immigration, or it might simply involve independent-minded parents who esteem their (and their children’s) privacy or rankle at assertions of governmental authority. There’s no hint in the short opinion about any such subtext; and the justices strongly prefer to stay out of political issues anyway.