A History of Homeschooling in South Carolina
Prior to June 1988, the doctrine of "substantial equivalence" was the law that governed homeschools in South Carolina. Under this doctrine, parents had to prove to the complete satisfaction of a local school board that their proposed homeschool would provide as "substantially equivalent" a learning environment as that of the local public or private school. While some districts' school boards were willing to approve homeschools, others were not. Even the friendly districts required home visits, approval of teaching texts, and other, sometimes intrusive, requirements. In some districts, good relationships existed between homeschooling families and the district officials. In a large number of districts, however, homeschoolers had a difficult time proving "substantial equivalence" to highly critical, and sometimes even hostile, school boards. The result in these situations was almost predictable: permission to homeschool denied. For families living in hostile districts, and who believed that God had called them to homeschool, the choices included moving to a new, more receptive, school district or homeschooling under threat of legal action.
As a result of this unequal treatment from district to district, families that homeschooled in South Carolina prior to June 1988 sometimes did so at great risk of facing criminal truancy charges. These families were not rebellious; they were politely but firmly asserting their God-directed responsibilities and telling those in government (public) schools, "No thank you, teaching my children is my responsibility, not yours." Most were simply trying to teach their children in the way that they should go and were convinced that home education was God's call for their life. They were willing to go to the statehouse, the courthouse, and even the jailhouse if necessary to obey this calling. What they were not willing to do was to surrender their children to the State. Nor were they willing to back down from unjust government bureaucracy.
Slowly, these homeschooling parents banded together and formed small support organizations. The organizations they formed had a variety of names and some are still in existence. One such group was the Carolina Family School Association. This group, which was originally located in Goose Creek, South Carolina, became the statewide homeschool support group; its name was changed to the South Carolina Home Educators Association (SCHEA). SCHEA was formed to obtain a legislative solution for homeschools, and to provide support and encouragement to homeschools at the state level. Originally, SCHEA had approximately ninety members.
During the time of "substantial equivalence," the homeschool movement continued to grow, and an increasing number of local school boards began to hesitate in their challenge of homeschooling families. This was especially true for those families represented by Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). It was during this era, however, that the State Department of Education (SDE) began to quietly take on the task of suppressing homeschooling. In December 1985, the SDE drafted a proposed regulation that would force homeschooling parents to have an accredited B.A. (or B.S.) Degree, and for all homeschooling programs to use state-approved texts. Homeschoolers were not aware of these proposed regulations' existence until they were being considered by the General Assembly in April 1986. With only a few weeks to react, homeschoolers went on the offensive. They prayed, they planned and they acted. All conventional wisdom (as well as friendly politicians), said, "You can't win. This regulation is going to be enacted." But, on May 12, 1986, nearly four hundred homeschool supporters gathered at the public hearing of this regulation to hear Dr. Raymond Moore and other supporters speak on behalf of homeschools. The questions asked, the material presented, and the voters counted caused consideration of this regulation to be delayed until the following legislative year. This delay gave homeschoolers time to mount a sustained offensive, and in February 1987, the proposed regulation was defeated and sent back to the SDE.
All was quiet for a few days until a SCHEA board member was notified by a young member of the State House of Representatives that the SDE had new plans for homeschools, and that those plans would not be acceptable to homeschoolers. Working with the legislator, a committee was formed with the SDE and SCHEA to hammer out a draft homeschool law. Each side had issues on which they would not budge, and the compromise bill which was introduced was distasteful to both sides. Positives on the homeschool side were that the requirement for a Bachelor's degree was dropped and the ability to choose homeschooling texts was obtained. However, after the committee work ended the SDE suddenly claimed that its own representatives on the committee were "not its representatives after all," and immediately began fighting the bill. During this entire time, HSLDA provided much-needed legal support both at the state level and for individual families faced with legal threats.
The homeschool bill was battled throughout the rest of the 1987-88 session. The final showdown came on the last week of the session. Hostile House members offered amendment after amendment to kill or further weaken the bill. Supporters defeated each one until an Education Entrance Examination (EEE) test amendment was proposed. The amendment would require that homeschooling parents without a college degree take what was known as the EEE test for prospective schoolteachers. There was a one-year grace period prior to this amendment being enacted. The law passed, and governor signed it during June 1988. This statute, 59-65-40, allowed (and still allows) homeschools to operate under the supervision of a local school district. Homeschoolers found this law to be burdensome, but overall, this law was a major victory for homeschoolers because, for the first time, all local school districts in the state were forced to approve any homeschool that met the new requirements.
During the summer of 1988, a period of calm settled in as plans to homeschool under the new law ensued. More local school districts chose to become relatively unconcerned about homeschools. In fact, some local school districts became very helpful, using pro-homeschooling interpretations of the new law. For homeschoolers living in those districts, working with the local schools was, and in some cases continues to be, a positive experience. However, some at the SDE and some local school districts had difficulty accepting this turn of events. In non-friendly school districts the new law was tediously interpreted with long and detailed application processes, and in some cases, bureaucratic harassment. As soon as the one-year grace period on the "Triple E" lapsed in 1989, parents without college degrees felt the full weight of the SDE and local school boards. Applications were denied, including applications from those families who had homeschooled successfully, but where the teaching parent did not pass the EEE.
Home School Legal Defense Association brought a class-action suit on behalf of non-college-degreed parents in South Carolina. The case went all the way to the State Supreme Court, where the EEE test was ruled invalid in 1991. After this ruling, another period of relative calm returned to those under the homeschooling law, as long as the homeschools continued to adhere to tedious application processes and to school district reviews of homeschoolers' academic work.
Concurrent with the EEE lawsuit, homeschooling leaders began exploring a provision in the law which might allow for a homeschool supervisory organization to be formed under the umbrella of the private school portion of the compulsory attendance law, Section 59-65-10. With much prayer and consultation, the decision was made to try to create a homeschooling supervisory organization operated by homeschoolers under the umbrella of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association (SCISA). This was then changed to be a stand-alone organization. In 1990, the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS) was formed and modeled after the private schools' association. SCAIHS originally required its members to join HSLDA in preparation for the expected legal battles. They did not have long to wait.
At the beginning of the 1990 school year, eleven families in Lexington District 5 were charged with criminal truancy as a result of homeschooling under SCAIHS supervision. Some were awakened as early as 5:00 A.M. by law enforcement officers serving them papers and demanding to talk with their children. This resulted in two court cases, one in Lexington County and one in Richland County. All other school districts in the state agreed to wait on completion of these two cases before beginning any action against SCAIHS members in other jurisdictions. Both cases were lost. The judges maintained that this was a legislative matter and needed to be resolved in the state legislature. As preparations for appeal were being made, the leadership of SCAIHS was contacted by the SDE. They were informed that the SDE was "tired of fighting homeschoolers." They indicated that not only did homeschoolers have lawyers, they had very good (HSLDA) ones. Representatives from the SDE stated that they would not block legislation to grant legal status to SCAIHS. The SDE refused however, to accept SCAIHS's and SCHEA's request to allow for other private supervisory organizations. The SDE would not budge on that issue. After more prayer, planning, and action, the next chapter in South Carolina's homeschooling freedom became law on April 8, 1992. Now, homeschoolers at SCAIHS could supervise homeschools under Statute 59-65-45.
With the passage of the SCAIHS law, even more local school districts adopted a somewhat relaxed view of homeschools, while others maintained a somewhat adversarial climate. With this newer law a large number of homeschoolers were very satisfied, and many continue to be so, as SCAIHS meets a variety of needs for homeschools in the state. Some homeschoolers found that the original law was working well in their individual school districts. Still others prayed and pursued greater options and freedoms.
In 1996 the time had arrived. A group of homeschoolers working with the State Senate were able to attach a third homeschooling law to an existing bill. The original wording of this proposed law sparked concerns. The debate which ensued between homeschoolers and legislators, and homeschoolers themselves, once again presented growing pains as the details of this "third option" law were worked through. Bill language changes were made and on June 20, 1996, Statute 59-65-47 went into effect. This law created the opportunity for any number of private homeschooling accountability associations to exist. Since passage of 59-65-47, several accountability associations have provided many different services and have met the needs of many homeschoolers across the state. This most recent legal option gave South Carolina homeschooling parents additional choices, thus increasing their freedom to homeschool as they saw fit.
It is our desire that this brief overview will help your understanding of the development of South Carolina's homeschooling laws. It is due to the sacrificial efforts of the early pioneers in the homeschooling movement in South Carolina that we have the wonderful freedom, which we all now enjoy. To them, we are truly grateful.