South Carolina improves
The state of South Carolina’s compulsory attendance statute requires homeschools to provide instruction which 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). As a result, each school district uses its own arbitrary standards in determining what constitutes “substantially equivalent instruction.”
Because of the vagueness of the law, many homeschoolers have been denied their right to homeschool by local school districts, and these local decisions are invariably upheld by the state board of education. This has prompted HSLDA to file a federal civil rights action in the federal district court on behalf of HSLDA members in South Carolina who have been denied their right to homeschool their children (Steyne, et al., v. Heyward, et al., CA-86-2629-0).
Since filing the federal suit, another HSLDA family in South Carolina has been denied the right to homeschool The Pridgeon family contacted their superintendent in Spartanburg County. Even though the Pridgeons were extremely cooperative with the school officials, Superintendent Patterson informed the family on January 8, 1987, that the board of trustees had denied their right to homeschool due to lack of qualifications (neither parents had a college degree), and “lack of a schedule, which shows intention of providing a program which is substantially equivalent to the instruction given to like ages in school as required by the Defined Minimum Program.” HSLDA appealed the case to the state board of education, but the board affirmed the local board’s decision.
Meanwhile, the state board of education proposed new regulations which would eliminate the current standards established by local school districts by establishing standard statewide policies toward homeschools. These standards would be much more restrictive than some of the policies established by many of the local school districts, and were therefore unacceptable to HSLDA members.
In an effort to help South Carolina establish more lenient and equitable homeschool regulations, the executive director of HSLDA, Chris Klicka, testified before the South Carolina Senate Education Committee on February 4, 1987. He urged the committee to disapprove the state board of education’s proposed regulations concerning homeschooling because such regulations are unlawful and unconstitutional. Klicka also urged the committee to rewrite the present compulsory attendance law in order to prevent the abuse of arbitrary decisions to deny homeschoolers.
First, he stated that the strictness of the new regulations (qualifications requirement, curriculum approval, home visits, etc.) effectively deny a majority of parents their fundamental right to teach their own children which is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The new regulations proposed by the state board of education would require homeschoolers to have a college diploma. Since, according to HSLDA’s findings, at least half of all homeschoolers do not have college degrees, Klicka argued that they would be denied the right to exercise their First and Fourteenth amendment rights if the proposed regulations are approved.
Even those who would be allowed to homeschool because they meet the educational requirements might still be unable to exercise their First Amendment rights because their religious convictions may not allow them to seek approval, be visited in their homes by public school officials, or have their textbooks dictated by the state. In fact, the proposal by the state board of education does not provide for any religious exemption, common in many other states. This lack of exemption is in direct violation of the South Carolina Equal Protection Clause. Presently all church schools and religious schools in the state are exempt from approval requirements.
After citing these arguments, Klicka moved to his second point. He argued that the state board and the local school districts have no authority to regulate private and homeschools. He cited the famous U.S. Supreme Court case, Schecter v. Poultry, 295 U.S. 495, which demands that the legislature set specific and clear standards to avoid allowing an administrative body to legislate. Klicka argued that delegating the state board of authority to approve instruction in the home as “substantially equivalent” did not provide specific, clear, or reasonable guidelines to the board as required by Schecter.
Thirdly, Klicka asserted that the proposed regulation and § 59-65-40 are unconstitutionally void for vagueness, which is a violation of the homeschool families’ right to due process under the law. Recently the term substantially equivalent or similar terms have been struck down in five states.
Additionally, Klicka argued that the proposed regulations and § 59-65-40 violate the homeschooler’s right to another component of due process, which requires that when a citizen is required to come to the government for a decision (i.e., whether or not they can homeschool), the person is entitled to a neutral decision maker who has no financial interest in the outcome (Turney v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510). The regulations give the local school boards the authority to approve homeschools, when the public schools are in direct competition with homeschools.
Lastly, the new regulations propose a “home visit” where the public school officials can come into the home of a homeschool family and “approve” the facilities. Klicka argued that this is both a violation of the Fourth Amendment and the family’s right to privacy.
Based upon these constitutional arguments and the lobbying efforts of the homeschoolers, the South Carolina Senate Education Committee rejected the state board of education’s requirements, and additionally passed a new homeschool bill. This legislation would permit parents with at least a high school diploma or GED to homeschool their children as long as they meet several educational requirements specifically delineated in the bill: 1) an annual standardized achievement test, 2) semiannual progress reports, 3) portfolio of records, 4) and basic subjects to be taught. No discretion is left in the hands of the local or state boards. The boards “shall approve” a homeschool if the above requirements are mechanically performed.
Meanwhile, on March 11, 1987, HSLDA achieved another major victory in the Steyene case. Michael Farris, President of HSLDA, presented a brief and argued before the federal district court. Farris convinced the judge that the State’s motion to dismiss the case should be denied. More importantly, Farris acquired an order from the judge prohibiting prosecution of any homeschoolers involved in the HSLDA suit—a signal to all school districts to leave alone HSLDA members throughout South Carolina. Already, this order has been used to prevent prosecution of the Aldridge and Pridgeon families.
Finally, the judge postponed all further proceedings in the federal suit pending the outcome of the homeschool legislation.