P.O. BOX 2120




March 7, 2003



Division Superintendents



Jo Lynne DeMary

Superintendent of Public Instruction



Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Schools and Written Certification Requirement


The intent of this correspondence is to bring to your attention guidance recently received from U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige regarding constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. The guidance sets forth and explains the responsibilities of the state education agency (SEA) and local education agencies (LEA) with respect to compliance with Section 9524 of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. Most significantly, as a condition for receiving federal funds under the NCLB Act, a LEA must certify in writing to its SEA that it has no policy that prevents or otherwise denies participation in constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in the Secretarys guidance document. As stated in the guidance,the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals, and the line between government-sponsored and privately initiated religious expression is vital to a proper understanding of the First Amendments scope. The guidance also states, For example, nothing in the Constitution prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day.


As a reminder, all school divisions in Virginia met the written certification requirement for school year 2002-2003 with the signatures of the division superintendent and school board chairperson on the assurance page in the applicable federal Consolidated or Individual Program application. However, school divisions will be required in 2003-2004 and beyond to provide the Virginia Department of Education annually, before October 1, with written certification of compliance under the provisions of Section 9524, School Prayer of the NCLB Act, 2001. By November 1 of each year, the SEA must send the U.S. Department of Education a list of school divisions that have not filed the required certificate or against which complaints have been made to the state.


The Virginia Department of Education is developing a one-page form that may be used for this purpose and will be disseminated through a future superintendents memorandum.


For a copy of the full text of Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, dated February 7, 2003, please go to the U.S. Department of Educations website at If you should have questions, please contact George H. Irby, Sr., director, Office of Compensatory Programs ( at (804) 225-2869.