In 1984, NCHE was organized to support and encourage home educators and to protect the right to freely home educate in North Carolina.
Although home education is the oldest form of education, it was not officially recognized in North Carolina until 1985. In May of that year, our state Supreme Court ruled that home education was a legal way of meeting the compulsory attendance regulations under the existing private school law.
Motivated by suggestions from that ruling, the North Carolina General Assembly undertook the task of deciding whether further regulations should be applied to home education and what those regulations should be. Through the efforts of North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE), an attempt to heavily regulate home education was averted, and a substitute bill was passed that added a new section to the private school law.
This section clearly designates home education as a method of complying with compulsory attendance regulations and contains minimal requirements. As a result of NCHE's hard work, the North Carolina law is now one of the nation's best.
NCHE and Our Homeschool Law
North Carolina has a very good law that allows parents to spend more time on teaching and less time on red tape. Parents can spend their money on curriculum materials they choose, instead of materials that someone else chooses. They can allocate time during the day to the subjects they feel are important for that day. They can set their own yearly calendar?the benefits of our law go on and on. It is good for new homeschoolers to be aware of the history of NCHE and our present law.
To discuss the homeschool law, we need to first consider the private school law. The religious private schools in North Carolina won a tremendous victory for freedom in 1979. A bill was introduced in the spring of 1979 and was passed despite massive opposition from public school officials as well as some religious leaders, adding Chapter 115C, Article 39 to North Carolina statutes. The bill removed private schools from the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and put them under the newly established Governor's Office, Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE). Regulations were limited to the areas of attendance, health and safety, immunization and periodic testing. The state now had no jurisdiction over curriculum, textbooks or teacher qualifications.
While this law did not specifically mention homeschools, some families contended that they could legally homeschool under its provisions. Calvin Criner, the first director of DNPE, allowed two or more families to form a school (called umbrella schools) and designate one person as the headmaster who kept all the records. Many homeschools registered that way, but other families chose to continue "underground" for fear of prosecution. People were being arrested for homeschooling, and there were several well-publicized court cases. The defining case was the suit brought by Larry Delconte of Harnett County. He sued the state for the right to homeschool, as an individual family, and the case went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
It was during this time that two groups of homeschoolers came together to form NCHE to support homeschoolers, to educate lawmakers on the advantages of homeschooling and improve the image of the homeschooling family. Some of the first activities, organized by Walt Goforth, involved educating homeschoolers on how to lobby the legislature and present the case for home education in a favorable light. Brochures were written and packets were delivered to each legislator. Trips to Raleigh for training and lobbying were planned for the spring of 1985. On May 7 the favorable ruling from the Supreme Court on the Delconte case was announced.
Even though the ruling was favorable, the Court included an admonishment to the legislature to look into further regulation or prohibition of homeschooling. Many newspaper articles and editorials were written, keeping the subject in the public's eye.
NCHE recognized that the battle was far from over and continued efforts to educate the legislature and the public on the benefits of homeschooling and the right of parents to educate their children. Homeschoolers were encouraged to continue making trips to Raleigh to build goodwill and support. DPI was building arguments supporting complete prohibition of homeschooling. A bill was introduced to set up a study commission but was never funded due to the efforts of NCHE and the influence of Senator Harold Hardison.
NCHE made the decision to fight to keep the law as written. The issue seemed to have died down until the spring of 1986 when William Peek, Associate Superintendent of Public Schools, wrote a position paper and distributed it to all local superintendents. He stated that most educators would prefer total prohibition of homeschooling, but commented, " . . . we recognize that nationwide intervention from the far right might very well make such legislation difficult to pass." He then suggested a list of specific standards that should be imposed on home educators. He called on school administrators to take an active role in passing these standards. NCHE acquired a copy of this position paper and reprinted it along with answers to each of Peek's arguments. DPI depicted homeschoolers as right wing fundamentalists and fanatics who wanted to isolate their children. They argued that homeschooling could promote child neglect and abuse. Editorials were again written calling for stiffer regulation. One editorial argued that it was possible for children to be schooled by the functionally illiterate, since there are so many North Carolinians in this category.
In January 1987, NCHE contracted with Diane Ridenour to be the legislative coordinator. Diane was familiar with the workings of the legislature and many of the people there. The Greenhouse Report called for continued lobbying and printed how-to articles, while asking for contributions to pay Diane. Up until this time, NCHE's activities had been totally done by volunteers and expenses were kept to a minimum.
On April 2, 1987, the State Board of Education made a surprise addition to their published meeting agenda allowing Eddie Speas of the Attorney General's Office to introduce three attorneys who presented the case for legislation that would bring home education under the local school superintendents. The vote was unanimous to endorse the concepts presented regarding regulation of home education.
Following this meeting, Diane, my husband, Gerald, and I composed a letter to be sent to the NCHE mailing list informing them of the proposed legislation and asking them to write their legislators. Bill Suttles, NCHE president, sent letters to Craig Phillips, the Superintendent of Public Schools and to each member of the school board, enclosing a supporting article from the Phi Delta Kappan.
On April 13, Rod Helder sent a working draft of proposed legislation to DPI. He suggested adding a Part 3 to the current law that would define homeschooling and list the requirements. Among other things, his proposal required nine hundred hours of age-appropriate instruction, keeping a planning book and annual testing to be done at a conventional school. This was less restrictive than DPI's proposed bill which specified which subjects should be taught, required six hours of daily instruction, a four-year college degree for the instructor and the right of local superintendents to review eligibility twice a year.
On April 17, HB 837 was introduced in the House, containing all the restrictions set forth at the school board meeting, in spite of suggestions by Rod Helder and the lobbying efforts of home educators. An identical bill was introduced in the Senate, while Harold Hardison introduced "An Act to Regulate Home Schools," written by Rod Helder and preferred by NCHE as an alternate bill. HB 837 was amended over and over with revisions which included teacher certification, minimum standardized test scores, unannounced home visits, an advance yearly lesson plan for each child, minimum enrollment and standardized tests identical to those used in the public schools. After each revision, another letter went out to the NCHE mailing list, suggesting a course of action. NCHE had no office, so we worked out of our homes.
NCHE continued to hold the view that no new legislation was needed, although all the activity seemed to assure that something would pass. At this point NCHE worked with Richard Chalk on an amended version. The bill passed the House, but included a request for $50,000 for the Governor's office. This request kept the bill from dying, and required it to be sent to the appropriations committee. With chairman Harold Hardison's help the bill stayed in committee until the legislators went home.
We all sighed a sigh of relief, but we knew this was just a small victory. Along with many dedicated home educators, we had spent many hours in committee meetings, many hours talking with legislators and many hours conferring among ourselves and with our allies. On the other side were the ever-present taxpayer-paid lobbyists from DPI and the NC Association of Educators. Home educators from all over the state, however, had rallied to the cause, informed by our frequent letters. We were told that the legislators had never gotten so many calls, letters and visits on any one issue.
Between legislative sessions, NCHE had decided that we needed to get something passed to get homeschooling officially on the books. We felt that this would make further attempts at hostile legislation less likely. NCHE sent a series of letters to each legislator asserting the excellent results of home education. The final letter in the series informed the legislator that they would be contacted by a homeschooler for an appointment. NCHE had lined up volunteers to invite every legislator to meet with them in their homeschools or elsewhere. The purpose was to show them that homeschoolers were responsible, thinking people who only wanted what was best for their children, that homeschooled children were getting a quality education and to ask them to support homeschoolers with their votes.
Senator Dennis Winner, who had been an opponent, was invited to visit a homeschool in his district. He was so impressed that he was willing to sponsor an NCHE substitute bill, which added homeschools as Part 3 to the existing law. The remainder of the requirements remained unchanged, except that homeschoolers would no longer be liable for safety and fire inspections. Winner insisted on replacing the testing normally required in grades three, six and nine with yearly testing. NCHE accepted this compromise in order to get the bill introduced. It narrowly escaped amendments in the Education Committee, and came unchanged to the floor. On the floor of the Senate chamber, Helen Marvin argued for requiring teachers to have a high school diploma. The bill passed with the diploma amendment and was subsequently passed by the House. When the 1988 legislature finally went home, we had a law that we could live with, and we were all thankful and relieved!
The battle was long and hard-fought, just as the battle for the original private school law. But North Carolina homeschoolers have benefited through the years from minimum regulations and a peaceful atmosphere in the state.