Some members of the First Assembly of God Church in Alexandria, which has been fighting city officials and neighbors in an effort to open a private school this fall, are keeping their children out of established schools because they are convinced they will be operating their own classrooms soon, said a church spokesman.
Some church members say their children will be taught at members' homes if the church's plans to open the school are blocked.
"The students are not lacking, they're being taken care of scholastically," said Shirley Rose, an assistant to the Rev. Thomas Gulbronson, the church pastor.
Virginia law requires that students be taught by state-certified instructors, an official with the Virginia Department of Education said. The official added, however, that the children would have to remain out of school for several months before legal action is taken to make them enroll in public schools or another acceptable system.
The Alexandria City Council is scheduled to vote this Saturday on the proposal to open the school, which would be in the educational building adjacent to the church in the 700 block of W. Braddock Road. The school would enroll a maximum of 300 students in kindergarten through grade 12. The city planning commission has recommended the request be denied, stating that traffic and noise created by the school would be more than the surrounding residential area could bear.
Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. has said he does not support the proposal and believes the City Council will deny the application unless it is scaled down for fewer students.
But church members say they are determined to start a school where their children can learn in an environment compatible with their religious beliefs.
Rose said last week that the church will open a school "one way or another." Gulbronson said last month that the church already has hired six teachers and a principal.
Gulbronson was not available for comment last week.
Rose refused to say how many children were being kept out of school -- her two children are among them -- and she wouldn't comment about the possibility of teaching the children at home if the City Council rejects the church's application to establish a school.
"They will be taught the full 180 days the law requires," said Rose. "That is all I can say about it."
Hugh Moore, an information officer at the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond, said last week that teachers or tutors are allowed to instruct children at home, but parents must meet stringent requirements before the state allows them to do so.
"Basically they have to have the same qualifications as a professional teacher," Moore said.
He said group classes at members' homes could be conducted legally if they meet city safety and fire codes. But city attorney Cyril D. Calley said such home classrooms would be illegal under city fire and safety ordinances.
"It's the same problem as opening a school at the church," said Calley. "The council has to decide. I don't believe they are going to try to open a school until after the council meets, so we have to see what happens after that."
Nevertheless, church members remain adamant. "We will definitely be opening a school," said Rose.