The First Battle: A Personal One
In 1984, Joe and I were faced with choosing between public and Christian school for our oldest son, Ty, who was then turning six. Even as a child he was bright, gregarious, energetic, and challenging. His kindergarten experience should have been delightful. He was attending a church school where his class consisted of a creative teacher and eight children. They were beginning reading, and by February, Ty was the only child not reading well. I watched as his extroverted personality began morphing into introversion. I knew I had to do something to rescue my child—I just didn’t know what. I pulled him out of school in February with the intention of holding him back a year and allowing him to repeat kindergarten, rather than being behind the other students when he began first grade. Within weeks, his vitality and love of life returned. I had my son back.
I prayed and agonized over where to put Ty in school. We were at a crossroads in his little life, and I felt as though I was in a lose-lose situation. At that point in time, our church school was using a curriculum with little use for the concept of readiness. I knew if Ty were exposed to a grueling year of academics, it could be his undoing. The public school seemed to have a better grasp of what five-year-olds needed, but it could not share or affirm our Christian worldview. In the Christian school, his worldview would remain intact, while his confidence and joy would be crushed by academic pressure for which he was not ready.
In the midst of this agonizing decision, I poured out my heart to a dear friend during our weekly time of prayer and Bible study. As I laid before Susan my choices for Ty and asked her to pray for Joe and me, she very quietly told me of her intention to homeschool her son. I will never forget the first time I heard the word homeschool. The walls of Susan’s little mobile home (she and her husband were seminary students preparing for the mission field) began to close in on me. My head was spinning, and I felt trapped. I graciously took the literature Susan offered me and ran out the door. I knew I would never homeschool.
Along with some short studies, Susan had given me a copy of Dr. Raymond Moore’s book Home Grown Kids. Very reluctantly, I picked it up and began to read. In spite of wanting to totally dismiss the idea of home education from my mind, I found myself increasingly fascinated by the principles espoused by Dr. Moore. Now I was truly in a quandary. I wanted to narrow my options for Ty, but found the field broadened instead to three choices—public, private, and home.
When the boys were young, I used my early morning walks as a time to clear my mind, meditate on Scripture, and pray. During one of those walks, I came to grips with what I had been denying for weeks: God was leading me to homeschool Ty. To appreciate the anguish I was in, you must remember that I knew no one—not one person in the entire world—who was actually homeschooling. Homeschooling was not a household word as it is today. As I walked, I told the Lord that I was sorry, but I just couldn’t homeschool. To this day I can remember the sound of a large metal door slamming shut in my mind, and God saying to me, “Oh, yes, you will.”
When I returned home from my walk, I immediately contacted the local public school district to find out how to enroll Ty as a student for the coming school year. By ten o’clock that morning, I had met with the appropriate school officials who completed Ty’s enrollment in a matter of minutes. The sense of relief was overwhelming. The monkey was off my back, and I could finally get some rest. I continued to tell myself how ridiculous I had been to consider something like homeschooling.
From March until May of 1984, my life was incredibly peaceful—until all the other parents in our neighborhood received a packet of information from the public school about kindergarten orientation. When I called the principal to find out why we had not received a packet, he curtly informed me that I could not put my six-year-old in the kindergarten program—Ty would have to enter school in the first grade. I calmly explained that his staff had guaranteed Ty a place in kindergarten, but to no avail.
I was still not extremely concerned because I had several acquaintances in the district office, and I knew them to be reasonable people. When I called and explained my predicament to an associate superintendent, I could tell I had reached an impasse. I used what I considered my trump card by threatening to homeschool Ty if I could not hold him back as the school had agreed to do. I knew no school administrator would encourage homeschooling if he could help it, but to my amazement and horror, the superintendent informed me the school board had become lenient with that type of thing.
Our 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. There were of course no support groups or state organizations to call on for information, advice, or help—and no Internet! We submitted our application in July 1984. Even though we had carefully complied with the law, the school board denied our application because I was not a certified teacher (which was not a requirement of the law). When I opened the letter of rejection from the school board, I felt physically ill. Private schools were filled by this point in the summer, the school district would not allow me to hold Ty back, and now they had denied my request to homeschool. What was I to do? Joe and I quickly realized we were going to have to hire an attorney. 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 lawyer filed the proper paperwork to appeal our case to the state board of education, though our prospects looked bleak. We were informed by several officials that the 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.
In the midst of our dilemma, I decided to visit the state superintendent of education in South Carolina and explain our quandary. (I felt comfortable doing this because I had known him since I was a child. He had chosen to observe my mother’s public school classroom for a period of months while working on his Ph.D. in education.) With our state board hearing just a week away, the superintendent threatened to put me in jail for truancy! I left the State Department reeling. Not only had I not wanted to homeschool, but now I was going to be put in jail for it. This nightmare was careening out of control.
No family members knew of our plans to homeschool at this point except my sister. But with this new threat of jail, I had no choice but to tell my parents. I was slightly hysterical when I broke the news to them—beginning with homeschooling and ending with jail. They had never heard of homeschooling before either, but my father was furious over the way I had been treated. As a teacher, Mom was focused on the educational aspect of things, knowing how wonderful it would be to teach one on one on a daily basis. Even though I know they had to have misgivings—after all, I had misgivings—my parents were never anything but supportive of our decision to homeschool.
The day after my homeschool confession, Dad, in his capacity as chairman of the board at Baptist Medical Center (Columbia), was speaking at a meeting with Nancy Thurmond, wife of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. He informed her of my dilemma and told her that I had contacted the senator’s office, to no avail. (I had worked for Senator Thurmond for a short stint when I was in high school.) Dad wanted to know what the senator planned to do to help me. Mrs. Thurmond called the senator in Washington, D.C., and a few days later he flew to Columbia, met personally with the state superintendent of education, and asked him to approve my homeschooling program. Needless to say, my program was approved, and I never went to jail.1
The Second Battle: State and National Ramifications
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 home schools. This negated the use of Christian curricula in home schools.
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. Joe and I received the required sixty-day notification from the state board about the hearing date (to be held in May 1986) the same day I lost a little baby girl between the fifth and sixth months of my pregnancy. I almost lost my life as well during the labor and delivery process. Years later when I found our planning notes for the meeting, they were tear-stained. Because of the severe time constraints, Joe and I were forced to work on the public hearing in my hospital room after the birth and death of Joy.
Just organizing our side of the public hearing was time consuming, expensive, and emotionally exhausting. We had to pay legal fees as well as fees associated with the expert witness. Even though we had more than four hundred people and an expert witness in attendance at the hearing, the state board of education sent the regulations to the General Assembly for final approval without making any changes in light of the testimony offered.
That summer, I met with State Senator Warren Giese for the first time. Senator Giese sponsored most of our homeschooling legislation from that point on. As a former USC football coach and a Ph.D. in education, he was respected by everyone. He listened to my story and immediately agreed to call a Senate Education Committee hearing on those regulations. We had another huge turnout, and this time the Senate Education Committee unanimously rejected the proposed regulations.
Rep. David Beasley encouraged me to work on proactive homeschooling legislation, which I did. The Senate Education Committee called for an ad hoc committee to draft compromise legislation designed to keep homeschoolers and educators happy. This bill was enacted in June 1988 after the bill was substantially amended. The most onerous provision of the new law was a requirement that teaching parents without a college degree make a passing score on the Education Entrance Examination (the Triple E), a test developed by the state of South Carolina to screen prospective professional teachers. Michael Farris, president of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)2, said this about the law: “Homeschoolers 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.”3
Help for the Battle Weary
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. At one point in time, there were more homeschooling lawsuits filed in South Carolina than the other forty-nine states combined.
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, I began researching the feasibility of forming a private organization to serve as an alternative to public school supervision for homeschooling parents. In July 1990, the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS)4 was incorporated. 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 eleven 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 us to work on the passage of a bill that would make SCAIHS a legal option for homeschooling families, negating the need for them to go through their local school boards. Sen. Giese, my father, Dr. Steve Suits, Dr. Jim Carper, John Watson, and I formed a legislative committee and, along with the SCAIHS staff and members, worked relentlessly for four months on this bill. We then watched a miracle unfold as the South Carolina General Assembly passed the SCAIHS law in April 1992, ending eight years of legal and legislative turmoil in our state.
Legislative work is never finished, as threats to freedom are always just a bill away. But the hardest part of the work was finished when the State Supreme Court ruled against the Triple E, and the South Carolina General Assembly passed the SCAIHS legislation. Since that time, God has continued to bless homeschooling in our state, and it has continued to grow and prosper. Mothers can now homeschool their children with support and encouragement and without hostility and legal problems.
I served as the president of SCAIHS from 1990 to 2000. Today I am the Director of Apologia Press, a division of Apologia Educational Ministries. Apologia Press is committed to publishing biblically sound books and resources that will inspire and equip families for the homeschooling journey. Now that my children are grown, my work at Apologia gives expression to the continued and growing passion I have for homeschooling families. It is my fervent desire and prayer that every book we produce will enrich your home and family life. My goal is to encourage women in the vital kingdom work of raising their children for Christ. I pray this book has been helpful to the end. To God be the glory.