Home Education in North Carolina: the Early History 1979-1988
2013 marked the 25th anniversary of North Carolina’s homeschool law. It is now also the year the law was amended.
This five part series was written by Spencer Mason on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the passing of the law.
1: The Modern Homeschool Movement Nexus
It is important that homeschoolers know the early history of NCHE and homeschooling in NC. The research for this history came from Greenhouse Reports, The Legal Battle for Home Schooling in North Carolina by Jacqueline E. Burkhardt, minutes from the early NCHE board meetings, and personal conversations with Larry Cockerham, Ned and Claudia Eldridge, Walt and Sandi Goforth, Carolyn Winslow, Mary McLaurin, Terry Manahan, Susan Van Dyke and Judge Dennis Winner. I also have first-hand knowledge of most of this history, joining NCHE in 1985 and coming on the board in 1988. In this article, I will give an idea of what it was like for North Carolina homeschoolers in the 1980s. This will not be a comprehensive history, but rather, an attempt to portray the determination of a band of homeschool parents as they fought the authorities for the right to educate their children at home.
For a quarter of a century, home educators in North Carolina have found it relatively easy to comply with our homeschool law. Anybody who has had much contact with the Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) has learned that everybody there is homeschool friendly. This atmosphere goes a long way to make dealing with North Carolina state authorities a generally pleasant experience. It has been this way for so long that we forget or perhaps, have never known about, the great sacrifices the homeschool pioneers made so that we can educate our children at home in relative safety from state intrusion.
Many of those pioneers learned about homeschooling when they heard Raymond and Dorothy Moore being interviewed by James Dobson on the Focus on the Family radio program or when they read John Holt’s book Teach Your Own or his homeschool newsletter Growing without Schooling. The Moores were education specialists who had done research on early childhood education. Because of their findings, they tried to reform the school systems of America from within, citing their research. Their efforts were met with nothing but resistance, so they published a book for the general public, Better Late Than Early, in 1975, and continued to publish information about their research which promoted home education. John Holt was a classroom teacher who observed profound negative changes in children after they began to attend traditional school. He, too, tried to reform the system he was a part of, but to no avail. He eventually realized the system would not change, so he began promoting unschooling (a type of homeschooling). In 1977 his Growing without Schooling was the first newsletter dedicated to home education.
The Clamp Down
Homeschooling is now widely accepted in North Carolina as a good alternative method of education. It was a much different climate for home education in the early 1980s. Stories were told of homeschoolers living in rural areas who were able to stay in the shadows and exist without interference. However, those living in more urban areas did not have that advantage. In 1979, the Organized Christian Schools of North Carolina (CSNC) and the North Carolina Association of Christian Schools (NCACS) were successful in pushing through legislation that took the oversight of non-public schools away from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and placed the oversight in the Governor’s Office Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE). The new law was much less restrictive for non-public schools because it eliminated many of the operating regulations that were in place when DPI had oversight. Prospective homeschoolers saw this as an opportunity to legally operate as private schools. Later that year, North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edminsten issued an opinion that homeschools, 1) can receive no funding from the state, 2) must be accredited by the State Board of Education or by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or be an active member of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, 3) must have students from more than one family.
In August of 1981, Larry Delconte of Harnett County, was denied the right to homeschool his children, so he sued the state for that right. The court agreed that his homeschool met the requirements of the compulsory attendance laws, but the state appealed the decision. This began a protracted battle in the courts.
In 1982, while the Delcontes were fighting their battle, Peter Duro, a Tyrrell County resident, was prosecuted for violating the compulsory attendance law by establishing a homeschool. He claimed that under the First Amendment, his religious liberties allowed him to educate his children with accountability to the state. A federal court agreed with Duro that he had the right to school his children at home.
The small homeschool community was stunned when the NC Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s favorable ruling in the Delconte case in December 1983. The Delcontes then appealed to the NC Supreme Court. Homeschoolers received another disappointment when in January, 1984, the US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s favorable ruling in Peter and Carol Duro’s case. The Duros appealed to the US Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the case. During this time period, George Quick, of Stanly County, and Bob Groves, of Ashe County, were arrested and booked for homeschooling, and many more were threatened. I spoke with Carolyn Winslow about her recollections of that time, and she said that fear was rampant among home educators. During school hours they drew the drapes and kept their children hidden indoors. At the same time, homeschoolers realized that if they were going to have the freedom to educate their children, they needed to learn how to influence their legislators.
I spoke with Larry Cockerham about his experience during this time. He was a biology professor at Campbell University while he was homeschooling his two children. A law professor at Campbell warned him that the Harnett County Superintendent of Public Schools, Mr. Alton Gray, who had started proceedings against the Delcontes, would probably get the authorities to shut down his homeschool as well. Larry was friends with a deputy on the local police force. He asked the deputy if she would warn him when a summons was issued so he would not be arrested in front of his children. Several days later, the deputy called Larry to warn him that a criminal summons had been issued to bring him in. Rather than waiting to be arrested, he had his family leave the house, and he went to the police station to turn himself in. They booked and released him. Next, Larry called Alton Gray, with whom he had already had many conversations about home education, and said, “Mr. Gray you have made a mistake.” Mr. Gray agreed but said that it was Larry’s fault because he was homschooling. Mr. Gray explained that he had rescinded the summons. Later Larry learned that Mr. Gray had called the police station to cancel the criminal summons just after Larry had been booked and released. Apparently, the North Carolina Superintendent of Public Schools had called Mr. Gray to tell him to leave homeschoolers alone. After this incident, Larry and his wife, Lavonna, became active in lobbying for homeschooling. (He and his entire family were in the NC Supreme Court when the Delconte case was argued.)
2: NCHE, the Beginning
Walt and Sandi Goforth remembered that there were three groups of homeschoolers that were organizing and lobbying for homeschool rights. Sandi and Walt were in the High Point/Winston-Salem group with Ned and Claudia Eldridge, Gordon and Debbie Crandell, Mary McLaurin, Ed and Carolyn Winslow, Renee Winslow and Larry and Lavonna Cockerham. Another group in the greater Charlotte area included Ron and Judy Fitch, Jeff and Kim Golden, Terry and Ruby Manahan and Len and Linda Abercrombie There was another group in Hendersonville.
Concerns about the arrests and court rulings against homeschoolers prompted the Goldens and the Manahans to form North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) with the intention of encouraging and organizing homeschoolers across the state. They began with organizational meetings in public libraries in early 1984.
About that same time, Claudia Eldridge and Debbie Crandell were planning a meeting in Jamestown and working hard to locate as many homeschoolers as possible. They contacted Focus on the Family and the Moores to get names and addresses of people from North Carolina who had corresponded with questions about homeschooling. They sent out invitations, and that meeting—held at Solomon’s Porch on March 31, 1984—brought together groups of homeschoolers from all over the state under the banner of NCHE. The meeting was conducted by Mary McLaurin, a graduate education student at UNCG and a strong homeschooling advocate. Three mailing lists were developed based on geography. The families at the meeting didn’t want a list with all their names that could possibly fall into the hands of the authorities. Claudia remembers that there was a panic when, during the meeting, it was learned that a reporter from the Charlotte Observer was present. People thought they would be reported to the authorities. It turns out that this reporter was only interested in homeschooling his family.
Ron Fitch was persuaded to be president. Mary McLaurin was vice president. Jeff and Kim Golden agreed to serve as treasurer and secretary. Regional coordinators, who were designated to provide homeschooling information, were named. They were, 1) western: John McKinley, 2) south central: Terry Manahan, 3) north central: Claudia Eldridge, 4) north east: Debbie Leverette, and 5) north coast: Susan Oats.
The Goldens were also the first editors of the NCHE newsletter, the Greenhouse Report. The first issue was dated May 1984, and was sent to the 100 home educators who were brave enough to add their names to the NCHE mailing list. The Greenhouse Report was created to keep readers informed about legal actions against homeschoolers, strategies to reduce the chances of being arrested, parents’ legal rights and information on curriculum and legislation. Homeschoolers were encouraged to be politically involved, and NCHE printed brochures and educational packets for parents to use in explaining home education to a largely ignorant public.
NCHE planned a statewide meeting in Jamestown on November 10, 1984. There was a $3.00 per family registration fee. The main speaker was a Charlotte attorney Carl Horn who spoke on “Reclaiming Our Judeo-Christian Heritage.” Hewitt-Moore videos on teaching math and grammar were shown; there were cottage industry displays, and a representative from Discovery Toys displayed educational toys and games.
Here is an excerpt from The Legal Battle for Home Schooling in North Carolina, by Jackie Burkhardt.
“Two lobbying trips to Raleigh were planned for the spring of l985. The first trip was designed to get home schoolers oriented to the state capital and legislative procedures. The second trip was on May 7, l985. Each person took the names of five legislators. She or he was to visit each legislator and deliver an information packet on home education. “We were scared to death…These people are just going to chew us up and spit us out.”17 As they spoke with legislators, they grew more courageous.
May 7, l985, proved to be a fateful day. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Delcontes. Under the current law, Chapter 115C, Article 39 of the North Carolina Code, known unofficially as the Private School Law, home schooling would be allowed. “I remember…it was so exciting…we were all on the porch of the legislative building when we found out, and we all just cheered.”18 “We were euphoric, but we knew it was just the beginning of the fight.” 19
17 Interview #002, 3 March 1989. Home schooling parent who wishes to remain anonymous.
18 Interview #011.
19 Interview #002.
3:The Calm before the Storm (1985-1986)
In July 1985, Claudia Eldridge resigned as NCHE secretary to devote more time to her family. NCHE treasurer Steve Bland temporarily filled in as secretary, and Carolyn Winslow agreed to serve as corresponding secretary. Dr. Raymond Moore had stated that Claudia was “perhaps one of the top half-dozen people in the country in her understanding, commitment and articulate spokesmanship on home education.” After Dr. Moore made that statement and began routing phone calls to her, Claudia was receiving calls not only from all parts of North Carolina but also from many other parts of the United States. When I asked Ned and Claudia about this, Ned said Claudia would get hundreds of calls per week at all hours of the day. Claudia merely demurred, saying she never understood why she had been so elevated by Dr. Moore.
“Senator Dennis J. Winner introduced a bill to set up a study commission on home education. It was tentatively approved and went to the appropriations committee. Members of NCHE went to see Senator Harold Hardison, chairman of the appropriations committee and a powerful force in pushing through the 1979 Private School Law, to let him know that home schools fell under that law, and that the Senate was tampering with it. Senator Hardison promised that the study commission would not be funded. It was not.” 1
December 1985 was a busy month for NCHE. Reverend Terry Manahan resigned as the editor of the Greenhouse Report to pursue a doctor of ministry degree, and Dr. Gerald Van Dyke, an associate professor of botany at NC State University and homeschool father of four, took over the position of NCHE vice president from Mary McLaurin. Also, the NCHE leadership met with Dr. Ed Ulrich of the North Carolina Association of Christian Schools (NCACS), Kent Kelly, president of Christian Schools of North Carolina, former state senator Tom Strickland and Rod Helder of the Governor’s Office of Non-Public Education (now DNPE), to create a draft of a homeschooling bill. After discussing the pros and cons of presenting a bill that would amend the current non-public school law, the officers of NCHE decided to lobby to keep the current law unchanged rather than pursuing a new homeschool bill.
In 1986 Bob and Teena Goble put together plans for NCHE’s second conference on May 9-10. The featured speakers were Richard and Kathy McMinn who were influential in getting a good homeschool law passed in Georgia. The conference was a great success with more than 700 people in attendance. About half of the attendees were considering homeschooling.
Also in May, Larry Cockerham resigned as president because he and his wife, Lavonna, were moving to Cleveland, Tennessee, to pastor a church. A new slate of NCHE officers was elected. They were president, Bill Suttles; vice president for legislative affairs, Walt Goforth; vice president for support services, Bob Goble; secretary, Gerald Van Dyke; treasurer, Susan Van Dyke and newsletter editor, Don Woerner.
About that same time, senior associate superintendent of public schools, Mr. William Peek, sent a document to all superintendents of North Carolina public schools asking them to support legislation that would give the state tight regulation over homeschools. The document said that legislation should be passed to add the following changes to the existing homeschool requirements: 1) Parent teachers must have a college education. 2) The state should set a required course of study. 3) Minimum standardized test scores should be established, and tests should be monitored by qualified personnel. 4) Parents should notify school officials of their intent to homeschool. And 5) “Nonpublic school legislation should be amended to require that each nonpublic school notify the appropriate local board of education of every enrollment and every dropout or dismissal that occurs during the school year. The non-public school should also notify authorities of anyone who does not graduate and does not return the following year.”
“Home educators were branded by state officials as fanatics who were imprisoning their children, not allowing them to come into contact with anyone whose views might be opposed to their own. They were depicted as people who had stepped out of the mainstream of America. Words such as child neglect and child abuse were quoted frequently by the press. State officials claimed that home schools were poorly regulated and would stunt the educational and social growth of children. Editorial columns again carried the cry for regulation of home schools. They listed what was not required of a school rather than what was required, and they described worst case scenarios. One editorial suggested that a functionally illiterate parent could home school, and that this was not so far fetched since “a distressingly high percentage of North Carolinians are functionally illiterate.”2
It was ironic that in claiming so many North Carolina parents, many of whom had received their education in North Carolina public schools, were functionally illiterate, this editorial was condemning the very educational system they were purporting to support.
4: The Skirmish Is Lost (1987)
- North Carolina homeschoolers are committed, conscientious, law abiding, intelligent and friendly people.
- Home schools are an effective means of education.
- Our desire is for our existing protection under the 1979 “Church School” law to be left untouched.3
In April 1987 the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) proposed legislation entitled An Act to Permit Home Instruction under Certain Conditions, as a Means of Complying with Compulsory School Attendance Requirements. Under this proposed legislation homeschools would be under the authority of DPI and local boards of education: homeschool teachers would be required to have a college education and to teach a state approved curriculum. This proposal also required a six-hour school day and gave the local school authorities ability to deny the permission for a family to homeschool based on a twice-a-year subjective review of their homeschool.
“NCHE responded immediately. The home of Susan and Gerald Van Dyke, treasurer and vice president of NCHE, became a virtual mail room. NCHE’s legal liaison, Diane Ridenour, composed a letter to all North Carolina home schoolers and friends of home schoolers informing them of DPI’s move and the impending legislation. She asked home schoolers to write, phone, and visit their legislators immediately, not to wait for the bill to be introduced.” 4
NCHE proposed legislation that would keep homeschooling the same as it had been since the 1985 Supreme Court ruling. That proposal was never introduced to the house or the senate.
Then on April 17, 1987 disaster struck. Representative Tyndall introduced HB 837 (PDF) for its first reading. This bill was identical to the DPI proposal. Immediately, NCHE members began to flood Raleigh with letters and calls. On April 30, Senator Marvin introduced SB 779 which was virtually identical to HB 837. On May 1, Senator Hardison introduced a substitute bill, SB 708 (PDF), which was a proposal put forward by DNPE director Rod Helder. While SB708 was less restrictive than HB 837 and SB 779, NCHE lobbied against it as well as the other two bills.
On May 1-2, NCHE held its third annual conference in Winston-Salem with featured speaker basketball pro Jerry Lucas. Bob and Teena Goble were once again in charge of conference planning, and Carolyn Winslow planned and managed the book fair. The growth of the conference attendance was a good indication of how homeschooling was growing in North Carolina.
On May 14 both senate bills came before the Senate Education Committee, and they were both sent to a subcommittee for additional study. By May 18, SB 779 had received an unfavorable report and there had been no action on SB 708.
From May 19 through August 11, HB 837 went through several subcommittee and committee meetings, was revised five times and finally passed its third reading in the House. During this time, it became apparent that DPI was orchestrating the entire process. NCHE had requested a public hearing on the bill and that request was denied. However, NCHE was allowed to have an expert speak in favor of home education during a House Education Committee meeting on July 14. “Bill Suttles introduced Dr. John Wesley Taylor, V, an educational specialist in curriculum and testing from Virginia, who was himself home schooled. He spoke forcefully and articulately for about seven minutes, after which there was discussion from the floor.”5 Prior to this meeting NCHE passed out roses to all the secretaries of all the House and Senate Education Committee members. Susan Van Dyke remembers spending hours with her children removing the thorns from all those roses and tying them with ribbons. Those who spent hours in the legislative building during this long process knew how hard the secretaries were working due to our lobbying efforts, and NCHE wanted to appropriately acknowledge them.
There were several NCHE leaders that volunteered countless hours lobbying the legislators, attending meetings, keeping NCHE members informed and fighting this bill. Their sacrificial giving of their time and efforts in rallying homeschoolers from across the state saved us from having to live with an onerous homeschool law. They were Bill and Carolyn Suttles, Gerald and Susan Van Dyke, Walt and Sandi Goforth, Don and Diane Woerner, Charlie and Debbie Leverett and Herman and Karen Logan.
The House passed HB 837, and, because there was money requested for the 1987-1988 fiscal year, it was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval. When the 1987 legislative session came to an end, HB 837 was still waiting for Appropriations Committee approval. With the State Board of Education backing these bills and HB 837 having already been passed by the House, it seemed inevitable that both bills would be passed in the 1988 short legislative session.
1 Page 9 The Legal Battle for Home Schooling in North Carolina by Jacqueline E. Burkhardt
2 Page 12 The Legal Battle for Home Schooling in North Carolina by Jacqueline E. Burkhardt
3 Page 1 January, 1987 Greenhouse Report
4 Page 15 The Legal Battle for Home Schooling in North Carolina by Jacqueline E. Burkhardt
5 Page 10 October, 1987 Greenhouse Report
5: Victory! 1988
In the April 1988 issue of the Greenhouse Report, Herman Logan, chairman of the legislative committee, informed NCHE members that more than 260 replies to the March survey had been received and that the legislative committee was developing a plan. He explained that four mailings would be sent to every legislator with information about the current regulations of homeschooling, controversial issues surrounding the issue of home education, and a solution. He also asked NCHE members to invite their representatives and senators to visit their homeschools during the month of May. That May, I remember being quite nervous about inviting my representative, Harry Grimmer, to see my homeschool. It turned out that Representative Grimmer asked to meet in his realty office. We talked for almost an hour, and he pledged to support the NCHE position.
In the last weekend in April, at the fourth NCHE conference, the reorganization of NCHE was announced, and thirteen regional vice presidents were added to increase the number of board members from five to eighteen. In a board meeting on May 13, Herman Logan explained that the fourth letter to the legislators would suggest a substitute bill to replace the terrible HB 837 that had been passed by the House and was now in the Senate Education Committee. While some board members offered suggestions for the wording of the substitute bill, Herman developed the wording primarily on his own, rejecting wording that had been in earlier suggestions for substitute bills (SB708). The new eighteen-member board of directors voted unanimously to proceed.
The August 1988 issue of the Greenhouse Report gave the following explanation of what happened earlier that year.
“NCHE President, Walt Goforth, appointed Herman Logan, Jr., of Greensboro, to chair a legislative committee to formulate and implement a plan for the enactment of acceptable home education legislation. After tabulating the results of the survey distributed to homeschoolers in North Carolina, the legislative committee decided to attempt to have HB837 amended to “officially” indicate that a home school shall elect to operate under Part 1 or Part 2 of the current non-public school law. This would allow home schools to continue to operate by law as they have for the last three years according to a Supreme Court ruling.
After the completion of a four-step mail program to every senator and representative in the state, personal contacts were made with the members of the Senate Education Committee to determine if majority support could be obtained for the NCHE substitute version of the bill. Senator Bob Warren, Education Committee Chairman, from Benson, was extremely supportive of homeschoolers and provided every opportunity possible for successful passage of the bill.
One crucial step in the bill’s success was to find a prominent member of the Education Committee to sponsor the substitute bill on NCHE’s behalf.”
Once again, NCHE members were encouraged to invite their legislators to visit their homeschools. One hundred eighty-nine homeschool families volunteered to invite legislators to visit their homeschools. The strategy worked, and many legislators changed their minds and became supportive of home education. One senator, Dennis Winner, a prominent Democrat and member of the Senate Education Committee, agreed to introduce the NCHE substitute bill. He had read the four letters, visited the home of Bob and Joyce Brown in Weaverville and had come away with such a good opinion of homeschooling that he agreed to introduce the NCHE substitute bill if NCHE would agree to insert a requirement that standardized testing be required annually for homeschools (at that time, homeschoolers, as with all non-public schools, were required to test in grades 3, 6, and 9). Recognizing Senator Winner’s influence, Herman Logan agreed.
When Senator Winner introduced the NCHE substitute bill, NCHE members were asked to contact their legislators and ask them to support the substitute bill with no changes. The bill made it to the Senate floor with only minor changes to the wording. Then Senator Helen Marvin introduced an amendment that homeschool teachers have a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent. Attempts to defeat this amendment were unsuccessful and the bill passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority.
The NCHE board was not happy with the addition of the requirement that homeschool teachers have a high school diploma, but they recognized that this was much easier to live with than the bills that were introduced in 1987. They agreed to push the bill, with no changes, through the House. The House then reached a unanimous decision to pass the bill.
The new law was not perfect, but it allowed homeschoolers to have control over how they would educate their children with minimal government interference. As the dust settled, homeschoolers began to recognize that this new law was an answer to prayer. NCHE had taken on the State Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and had won! This was truly a David and Goliath story.
In a letter to NCHE, Tim Bryant described a ceremony performed in Asheville.
“On August 12, 1988, the Mountain Region Home Educators presented Senator Dennis Winner with a plaque of appreciation for his work on behalf of home educators in North Carolina during the last legislative session. The plaque was presented by Bob and Joyce Brown and Tim and Angie Bryant along with their homeschooled children.
The senator was genuinely pleased and remarked that it was “one plaque the others won’t have.” He expressed his support of home schooling even stating he felt we were “right” and mentioning his visit in the Brown’s home as being responsible for his positive opinion of home education.”
I recently spoke with Judge Dennis Winner, who is a recently retired North Carolina Appeals Court Judge. I asked him how he had come to change his position on home education. He said that he had done a lot of reading about homeschooling before the 1988 legislative session began. I asked him about the visit to the Brown’s homeschool. His first response was, “How did you know about that?” He confirmed that the visit was also influential. He realized that his initial impression about home education was wrong. He said that elected officials should be allowed to change their positions when they realize their original position is wrong. He said that he had no regrets in sponsoring NCHE’s HB 837 amendment because it was the right thing to do.