by Zan P. Tyler
On April 2, 1992, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation naming the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS) as a legal, alternate source of approval for home-schooling parents, thus ending eight years of struggle by families caught in the grip of governmental control.
Prior to the passage of this legislation, the only legal option available to home-schooling parents in South Carolina was approval by their local school district. The new law states:
In lieu of the requirements of 59-65-40 [the home-schooling law], parents or guardians may teach their children at home if the instruction is conducted under the auspices of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. Bona fide membership and continuing compliance with the academic standards of SCAIHS exempts the home school from the further requirements of Section 59-65-40.
Concerning the victory, Michael P. Farris, President of Home School Legal Defense Association, said: “South Carolina was the most active state in the nation in taking home schoolers to court. The South Carolina legislature responded to this bad situation by allowing responsible self-government for home schoolers. This is an advancement of an important legal principle.”
The significance of this legislation is better understood against the background of home-schooling’s rocky history in South Carolina. In 1986 the State Department of Education sought to require a baccalaureate degree for the teaching parent, as well as the exclusive use of state-approved texts in home-schooling programs. After a year of organized protest, these regulations were defeated at a Senate Education Committee hearing in February 1987.
At the urging of several friendly legislators, the South Carolina Home Educators Association (SCHEA), under the leadership of president David Waldrop, began working on writing a new home-schooling law. Charlie Williams, the Superintendent of Education at the time, was quite opposed to home schooling. Therefore, a “compromise” bill was drafted, which supposedly met both the home schoolers and the State Department of Education at a halfway point.
Two years of intensive lobbying followed. During the legislative process, however, the bill was substantially amended, and home schoolers were forced to watch the Legislature enact one of the most burdensome home-schooling laws in the nation. In a letter to HSLDA members in July 1988, Michael Farris said: “Home schoolers in South Carolina need to be banded together for future action on all fronts. You are saddled with one of the most cumbersome laws in the country. Of all states, you all need to stick together.”
The most onerous provision of the new law was the requirement that teaching parents without a baccalaureate degree must make a passing score on the Education Entrance Examination (also known as the EEE), a test developed by the State of South Carolina to screen prospective professional teachers. Other objectionable elements included a required length of the instructional day, rigid testing requirements, and the right of the school district to withdraw its approval of the home-schooling program during any point in the school year.
In the winter of 1989, SCHEA put together a legislative agenda for the 1990 session. The goals were two fold: 1. reduce the sting of the EEE by making it a requirement in the absence of a high school diploma rather than a college diploma; and 2. provide for private school supervision of home-schooling programs.
Friendly legislators, however, advised SCHEA that 1990 was not the right time to seek legislative remedies to home-schooling conflicts. We were encouraged to find other avenues to resolve the burgeoning mound of legal problems.
In February 1990 I began researching the feasibility of establishing an independent organization to accredit home schools, thereby negating the need for home-schooling parents to be approved by their local school district. With assistance from HSLDA attorneys, the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS) was incorporated in July 1990. SCAIHS was founded on the premise that the South Carolina compulsory attendance law provided the legal basis for its existence. The law states:
All parents or guardians shall cause their children or wards to regularly attend a public or private school or kindergarten of this State which has been approved by the State Board of Education or a member school of the South Carolina Independent Schools’ Association or some similar organization
The “some similar organization” clause was the key element in the establishment of SCAIHS. Patterned after SCISA (South Carolina Independent Schools’ Association), SCAIHS fulfilled that part of the compulsory attendance law allowing a private school to be a member of SCISA or some similar organization. Also key to the legal basis for SCAIHS was the establishment of member home schools as private schools.
The anticipated SCAIHS membership the first year was 35 to 50 families. Within the first two months of existence 120 families had joined.
On October 5, 1990, eleven SCAIHS families in Lexington School District 5 were served with truancy charges. The County Solicitor and Attorney General’s Office agreed to delay prosecution of these families until an Attorney General’s opinion could be rendered on the legal status of SCAIHS and its members.
In January 1991 a negative Attorney General’s opinion was rendered, and the stage was set for litigation. Early in 1991, HSLDA’s Michael Farris and Dewitt Black filed a declaratory judgment suit in Lexington County on behalf of the affected SCAIHS families. This was followed by Richland County School District 1 filing a declaratory judgment to establish the school district’s rights under the home-schooling law. SCAIHS lost both cases, and both cases were appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
During the fall of 1991 when the future looked bleakest for SCAIHS, things began to change. A state official mentioned to me the need for new legislation to resolve the mounting legal tensions surrounding SCAIHS. Newly elected State Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen made it clear that she did not view home schoolers as “the enemy” and was open to a legislative remedy to the “SCAIHS problem.”
On December 9, 1991, the South Carolina Supreme Court rendered its ruling on the EEE Case. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and stated that the EEE had not been properly validated for use with home-schooling parents. (See the January-February 1992 Home School Court Report.) This was a wonderful victory for South Carolina home schoolers.
The ruling also had tremendous implications for SCAIHS because one of the biggest complaints leveled against the association had been its lack of minimum educational requirements for teaching parents (i.e., a baccalaureate degree or passing score on the EEE). When the EEE requirement was rendered unenforceable, one of the major objections against SCAIHS was laid to rest.
In December the SCAIHS Board of Directors appointed a legislative committee to pursue the possibility of introducing SCAIHS legislation. This committee met with legislative and education officials, and representatives from the governor’s office. By January Representative David Wright of Lexington had agreed to sponsor the bill in the House of Representatives, and Senator Warren Giese of Richland County had agreed to sponsor it in the Senate.
The bill proceeded through the House of Representatives first. Representatives David Wright and Olin Phillips were instrumental in guiding the bill through the K-12 Subcommittee and the full House Education and Public Works Committee.
At the bill’s final reading, a threatening amendment was offered but averted, and the House unanimously approved the SCAIHS legislation with the following amendment. It reads as follows: “By January thirtieth of each year, the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools shall report the number and grade level of children home schooled through the association to the children’s respective school districts.”
This amendment simply requires the SCAIHS staff to report the number of registered students (by grade level) to each superintendent. No names are required, only a total number, and only the SCAIHS staff, not the parents, are required to interact with public officials.
The bill was sent to the Senate and assigned to a subcommittee of the Senate Education Committee. On March 4 the bill was passed unanimously by the subcommittee, but home schoolers were warned that a potentially crippling amendment would be considered at the full Senate Education Committee meeting on March 18.
SCAIHS members and other South Carolina home schoolers conducted a massive phone campaign to encourage the senators to vote for the House version of the legislation and not the amended version. The SCAIHS legislative committee also met with many senators one-on-one to discuss the viability of the bill in its original form.
March 18 was D-Day for the bill. God delivered the victory and the objectionable parts of the amendment were defeated! The Senate version included the House version of the bill and the remaining non-objectionable sections of the amendment which required SCAIHS to maintain the following minimum standards:
- a parent must hold at least a high school diploma or GED;
- the instructional year must be at least 180 days;
- the curriculum must include, but not be limited to the basic instructional areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, and in grades seven through twelve, composition and literature.
Since SCAIHS had already implemented these requirements into the association's membership guidelines, the legislation carried no negative impact.
On March 25, the bill went to the full Senate floor where Senator John Courson of Richland County explained the legislation. The Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill.
On March 31, the House concurred with the final Senate version of the bill, and on April 2, the bill was ratified. Governor Carroll A. Campbell, Jr. signed the bill on April 8, and the SCAIHS legislation became law.
SCAIHS is an alternative to school district supervision. Home-schooling parents who wish to home school through their districts are still free to do so. The Home Instruction Law (59-65-40) remains intact.