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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.

Under South Carolina's “compulsory education” law, 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

You may legally drop out in South Carolina once you've reached your 17th birthday. The state also allows you to leave school at age 16 if:

  • a court has found that continued attendance wouldn’t serve your best interests or would be disruptive for the school
  • the court authorizes you to find a job, and
  • you keep working (under the court’s supervision) until you turn 17.

The court may order a physical exam and mental testing to help it decide whether working would be better you than continuing in school. (S.C. Code §§ 59-65-10, 59-65-30(f) (2019).)

Other Exceptions to the Attendance Requirement

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

  • have finished eighth grade and have a job that your family needs to survive
  • have a child but don't have access to suitable day care, and the school district has temporarily waived attendance requirements for you, or
  • 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 (2019).)

Costs of Dropping Out

No matter what age you are, dropping out will likely bring you long-term financial consequences. But if you stop going to school while you're still subject to the state's compulsory education law, you could suffer more immediate legal consequences for truancy.

In South Carolina, you're considered a truant when you've been absent without a valid excuse three days in a row or a total of five days in the school year. At first, the school will try to work with you and your parents to come up with an “intervention plan” meant to address the problem.

If you don't cooperate with the intervention plan and have two more unexcused absences, the school may ask the family court to order you to attend school every day. Your case may go back to the court for a hearing if you don't obey those orders, and the school has exhausted its efforts to help. If the court finds that your parents didn’t know about the absences or did their best to keep you in school, you could come under the court’s supervision as a delinquent minor, with all the potential consequences that involves. (S.C. Code § 59-65-70; S.C. Code Regs. 43-274 (2019).)

In addition, you may not be able to drive legally in South Carolina if you drop out too early. The state 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 (2019).)

High School Equivalency Tests

State residents can obtain a South Carolina High School Equivalency Diploma by passing the “Test Assessing Secondary Completion” (or TASC). If you're younger than 19, however, you can't take the test unless you submit a form verifying that you withdrew from school. If you're 16, you must either have a court order or be under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice. No one younger than 16 is eligible for the TASC.

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