|| ALONG THE WAY
ALONG THE WAY
HSLDA and South Carolina
by Zan Tyler
The summer of 1984, my husband Joe and I applied for "permission" to homeschool our six-year-old son, Ty. We unwittingly walked into a hornet's nest, as state and local officials and agencies in South Carolina were just beginning to work together to discourage homeschooling in our state. The local school board denied our application, and we were forced to appeal our case to the state board of education.
|As the SCAIHS board looks on in 1992, South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell signs a law authorizing a private-sector alternative to public school supervision for homeschooling parents.|
In the midst of this process, I decided to visit the state superintendent of education and explain our quandary to him. I felt comfortable doing this, having known him since I was a child. The meeting did not go as I had hoped, and with our state board hearing just a week away, the superintendent threatened to jail me for truancy.
We didn't know, then, that a fledgling organization called HSLDA had recently been started on the West Coast for situations like ours (see "The Curtain Rises on HSLDA" in the January/February 2003 Home School Court Report). Instead, we set out to hire our own legal counsel.
Just finding a lawyer who had ever heard of homeschooling was difficult. Finding one who understood homeschooling in the context of school law and constitutional rights seemed impossible. Additionally, we were a young family, with limited financial resources. By God's grace, we found a Christian attorney who cut his fees and took our case.
Our attorney's first task was to research what we had to do to comply with South Carolina law, as both the local school district and the state department of education refused to provide us with that information. After the local school board denied our application, our attorney had to file the proper paperwork for us to appeal our case to the state board of education, as well as represent us there.
Our prospects looked bleak. We were informed by several officials that the state board of education, in cases like ours, simply upheld the local school board's decision. The mounting legal and financial implications invaded our lives as we suddenly faced the possibility of expensive appeals, coupled with the frightening prospect of having our children forcibly removed from our home. I will never forget those feelings of fear and panic as long as I live.
Thank the Lord, I never went to jail. As a senior in high school I had worked for Senator Strom Thurmond's 1972 re-election campaign. The day after I was threatened with jail, my father spoke at a hospital trustees' convention, sharing the podium with Nancy Thurmond, the senator's wife. My father explained my situation to Mrs. Thurmond. A day or two later, Senator Thurmond flew to Columbia, met with the state superintendent of education, and requested that my program be approved. It was.
Rather than being the end of our story, this was just the beginning. The Lord, in his sovereignty, had allowed me to experience those feelings of panic and fear for a reason. Now I had a burden to help homeschooling families facing the same intimidation and prejudice. I had no idea at the time that the next phase of the journey would span eight years and would be a perilous uphill climb, involving all sorts of legislative and legal maneuverings.
In December 1985, a neighbor informed me of regulations promulgated by the state department of education requiring homeschooling parents to possess a college degree from an accredited institution, and to use only state-approved texts in their homeschools. This negated the use of Christian curricula in homeschools.
Once again, I called our attorney and explained our predicament. He coached me through the process of calling for a public hearing on the regulations and bringing in expert testimony to rebut them. (Simply organizing our side of a public hearing was expensive-paying for coaching and expert testimony.) Even though we had over 400 people and an expert witness in attendance at the hearing, the state board of education sent the regulations to the General Assembly without making any changes in light of the testimony offered. Later, after a second public hearing, the Senate Education Committee unanimously rejected the regulations.
At this point, HSLDA jumped into the judicial and legislative arenas in South Carolina with both feet, giving us the expertise and support we needed to effectively fight for our freedom. Mike Farris began by filing a class-action suit to overturn the Triple E requirement for homeschool parents.
During this period of intense litigation, one of the attorneys for the state department of education said to me, "Zan, I usually say 'Boo!' and groups like yours scatter like scared mice. You not only have legal representation-you have good legal representation. That gives you staying power." When the state ran out of money and had to cease taking depositions, a department of education staffer observed, "HSLDA is like the Energizer bunny™-they keep going and going and going."
Amidst the appeals process for the Triple E case, South Carolina homeschoolers decided to form the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS), a private-sector alternative to public school supervision for homeschooling parents. Wanting to prepare for any type of legal challenge, we required all SCAIHS members to be HSLDA members, too. Only three months later, a school district filed truancy charges against 11 SCAIHS families. Additionally, the state attorney general issued an opinion that SCAIHS was not a legally valid option for homeschool families. Emboldened by this opinion, other districts began filing charges against homeschooling families. HSLDA countered by filing a class action suit on behalf of SCAIHS members, asserting that SCAIHS was in fact a legal option for homeschoolers.
South Carolina homeschoolers were fighting a war on two fronts-one against the Triple E legislation and one in support of SCAIHS.
After battling the Triple E case through the South Carolina court system, HSLDA won a landmark victory in the state Supreme Court in December 1991. Many other states had been waiting in the wings with plans to test non-degreed parents before granting them approval to homeschool. HSLDA's victory nipped this dangerous trend in the bud. The decision also paved the way for the passage of SCAIHS legislation by the South Carolina General Assembly in April 1992, ending eight years of legal and legislative turmoil.
It has been 19 years since Joe and I began our homeschooling journey, and 16 years since we became HSLDA members. Whether it was defending families, defending SCAIHS, filing class action suits, appealing lower court decisions, or working with us to enact acceptable legislative remedies, HSLDA has been there for us. Looking back on the history of homeschooling in South Carolina, I'm not sure we could have ever fully appreciated our partnership with HSLDA had we not labored without them for several years.
HSLDA's continued presence and pressure in court opened up legislative avenues for South Carolina families through which we secured much greater homeschooling freedom. In addition to their legal representation and legislative aid, their constant counsel, coaching, and prayer support have been invaluable.
To this day, state officials know that we have outstanding attorneys to represent us should they try to thwart our freedom. I thank the Lord constantly for HSLDA and for what the organization has meant in the lives of homeschoolers throughout our state.
About the author
Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and the Editor of the Homeschool Channel for LifeWay's Web Network (www.lifeway.com/homeschool). She is the founder and past president of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. She and her husband Joe have three children and have homeschooled since 1984.