South Carolina Disapproves
The South Carolina compulsory attendance statute requires that homeschools provide instruction that “is approved by the State Board of Education as substantially equivalent to instruction given to children of like ages in the public or private schools.” (See § 59-65-40.) The statute seems harmless enough but each school district applies different standards as to what constitutes “substantially equivalent instruction” resulting in the denial of dozens of families the right to homeschool.
In March 1986, two HSLDA families (the Paul Steyne family and the Daniel Steyne family) of the Richland County School District #1 approached their school district informing them of their desire to teach their children at home for the 1986–87 school year. The superintendent subsequently refused to recommend them because the family did not have sufficient qualifications to teach their 6-year-old child. The parents in both families had some college training and previous teaching experience. In July, the local school board officially denied both families the right to teach their own children since in the school board's estimation, their instruction could not be substantially equivalent.
HSLDA appealed the school board’s decision on behalf of both families and filed legal briefs. Chris Klicka, Executive Director, and Mike Farris, President, argued that the compulsory attendance statute was unconstitutionally void for vagueness for two reasons. First, they argued that the statute was vague because “the reasonable parent of common intelligence must necessarily guess as to the statute’s meaning and differ as to its application.” Since there is no definition of the term “substantially equivalent,” homeschool parents have no ascertainable standard as to their obligations under the law. The vagueness results in each local school district defining “substantially equivalent” in an arbitrary manner, thus denying parents their fundamental, constitutional right to direct the education of their children. Secondly, the law is vague because it allows for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement in violation of the parents’ right to due process.
Klicka and Farris also argued that allowing the local and state boards to “approve” homeschools is a violation of the parents’ right to have a neutral decision maker presiding over whether they can exercise their fundamental right to teach their children or not. They emphasized that “no local superintendent or school board should ever be allowed to decide whether an alternative form of education will be allowed to be practice din their community because they have a financial interest in the outcome of the decision.” Unfortunately, the state board affirmed the local school board’s denials on September 9, 1986, completely disregarding the legal arguments.
As a result, HSLDA has filed a federal civil rights action in the federal district court requesting that the court rule that the compulsory attendance statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness and therefore unenforceable based on the arguments delineated above (Steyne, et al., v. Heyward, et al., No. 3:86-2629-0, U.S. District Ct. for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, filed November 26, 1986). HSLDA has also joined two other families who have been “disapproved” by their local school boards and two more who have been disapproved by the state board. The purpose of the suit is to sue the state board of education and individual school districts for violating the civil and constitutional rights of the homeschoolers while simultaneously asking the court to strike down the South Carolina compulsory attendance statute as unconstitutional.
In Forth Mill School District #4, the Aldridge family, a member of HSLDA, was denied the right to teach their own 6-year-old child even though the school district found their curriculum of the first 18 weeks to be equivalent and the father had a BA degree. One board member commented that they were not providing “cross-cultured” socialization to their children because all their activities involved their church or their ministry. The Simmons family of HSLDA was disapproved by Richland County School District #2 in spite of the fact that the father had a BA degree and the mother had almost two years of college with three years of experience working as a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher in the public schools. In St. George, another HSLDA family was disapproved because of “insufficient qualifications.”
On the other hand, the Goddard family was approved by the Horry County School District even though the parents only had one to two years of college experience. Likewise the Townsend family was approved by the Sumter County School District #17 even though the superintendent would refuse to recommend them. Both parents hold college degrees. Most other families have decided not to contact the school district for fear of disapproval.
Why the disparity in treatment of homeschoolers in various school districts? It is quite clear that the compulsory attendance statute is void for vagueness and should be declared unenforceable. Pray for the HSLDA attorneys as they challenge the statute through the federal courts.