Education Law

Compulsory Education Laws in South Carolina

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
South Carolina requires students to keep going to school until they turn 17, but 16-year-olds can legally drop out under certain conditions.

Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they may not realize that dropouts can suffer legal consequences as well. South Carolina (like every state) has “compulsory education” laws that that require parents to keep their children in school up to a certain age or until high school graduation. Parents might face penalties for violating these laws, and their children could end up in juvenile court.

Below is a summary of the laws in North Carolina that deal with compulsory education, the consequences of dropping out, and high school equivalency diplomas. (Because laws can change at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute.)

Requirements for Dropping Out Legally

South Carolina allows all students to drop out of school when they turn 17. However the state’s compulsory education law doesn’t apply if:

  • the school district doesn’t provide any suitable special classes for a student with a physical or mental disability
  • a student has finished eighth grade and has a job that the family needs to survive
  • a court has found that a 16-year-old student’s continued attendance at school wouldn’t serve the teenager or would be disruptive for the school, the court authorizes the youngster to find a job, and the teenager keeps working (under the court’s supervision) until the age of 17, or
  • the school district has temporarily waived attendance requirements for a student who has a child but doesn’t have access to suitable day care.

(S.C. Code §§ 59-65-10, 59-65-30.)

Penalties for Parents of Truant Students

Parents who don’t make their children go to school (up to the age of 17) can face a criminal conviction or contempt charges for refusing to obey a court order. Each day the child is absent will be considered a separate offense for purposes of the fines (up to $50 each) or jail time (up to 30 days each). (S.C. Code §§ 59-65-20, 59-65-60.)

Legal Consequences for Truant Students

South Carolina law doesn’t impose fines or penalties on dropouts who are under 17 and don’t meet any of the exceptions to compulsory education. However, school officials may refer a truant student to the juvenile court. If the court finds that the parents sincerely tried to keep their child in school, the youngster could come under the court’s supervision as a delinquent minor. (S.C. Code § 59-65-70.)

High School Equivalency Tests

State residents can obtain a South Carolina High School Equivalency Diploma by passing the “Test Assessing Secondary Completion” (or TASC). In order to take the test, anyone under 19 must submit a form verifying that they withdrew from school. In addition, 16-year-olds must have a court order to take the test or must be under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice. No one younger than 16 is eligible for the TASC.

Driving Without a Diploma

South Carolina allows 15- and 16-year-olds to apply for conditional or restricted driver’s licenses, but only if they are attending school or have a high school diploma (or a high school equivalency certificate). (S.C. Code § 56-1-176.)

Getting Help

If your child is under 16 and has stopped going to school despite your best efforts, it’s a good idea to contact the school. A counselor or other school official may be able to help or at least recommend resources and options.

If your child has been away from classes long enough to meet the definition of a truant, consider speaking with a lawyer. An attorney experienced in education or criminal law should be able to explain the legal consequences that both you and your child might face, as well as the steps you can take to avoid those consequences.

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