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Va. Chief Advised To Ditch Parent 'Contracts'

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The Virginia attorney general's office says the state's new parental-responsibility "contract" is not enforceable and has instructed the state superintendent to stop requiring parents to sign it.

By state law, parents are required to review a school's code of conduct with their children and sign a pledge to cooperate with school officials in disciplinary matters.

Parents who fail to send in a pledge could be fined $50.

But William H. Hurd, the Virginia deputy attorney general, wrote a letter late last month to Superintendent William C. Bosher saying that the most school officials can ask parents to do is sign an acknowledgement that they have received a copy of the student-conduct rules.

The letter follows a lawsuit filed in federal district court last month by the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville-based religious-rights group.

The suit claims that the law infringes on parents' religious freedom. In the suit, Deloras and Thomas Whitt, the parents of a Roanoke, Va., student, argue that signing the pledge violates their religious belief that discipline is a parental responsibility.

In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has said it may challenge the law, according to Kent Willis, the group's executive director.

In response to parents' complaints, the state education department sent a memo to schools saying that the intent of the law was not to "violate parents' legal rights."

Virginia education officials said that they were reviewing amendments--which could be introduced in the legislature in January--that would clarify the law.

"If the word 'contract' is construed to be a legal encroachment, then we have to deal with that," Superintendent Bosher said in an interview last week.

But the law's intent should not be lost in the discussion of the wording, he said.

"The message is clear: School divisions need a tool to say to parents that they can't abdicate the responsibility of their children," Mr. Bosher said.

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