Education Law

When Can You Drop Out of School in South Carolina?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
South Carolina generally requires students to keep going to school until they turn 17, but some younger children can drop out legally.

Every state has “compulsory education” laws that require school attendance. In South Carolina, that means children between the ages of 5 and 17 must attend classes at a public, private, or approved home school until they graduate. There are exceptions, however. Below is a summary of the state’s laws on staying in school, dropping out, and getting high school equivalency diplomas.

Requirements for Dropping Out Legally

South Carolina allows all students to drop out of school when they turn 17. But 16-year-olds may leave school if:

  • a court has found that continued attendance wouldn’t serve the teenager’s best interests 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 turning 17.

In order to help the court decide whether working would be better for the student than continuing in school, it may order a physical exam and mental testing. (S.C. Code §§ 59-65-10, 59-65-30(f).)

Other Exceptions to the Attendance Requirement

The state’s compulsory education laws also don’t apply if:

  • a student has finished eighth grade and has a job that the family needs to survive
  • the school district has temporarily waived attendance requirements for a student who has a child but doesn’t have access to suitable day care, or
  • a student can’t attend school because of a physical or mental disability, and the district doesn’t offer appropriate special education classes.

(S.C. Code §§ 59-65-10, 59-65-30.)

Costs of Dropping Out

Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they may not realize that dropouts (and their parents) can suffer more immediate legal consequences if they stop going to class before they meet the legal requirements for leaving school. (For more details, see our article on what happens to truants and their parents in South Carolina.)

In addition, dropouts may not be able to drive. 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.)

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.

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