Under Alabama law, a local school board may adopt a policy allowing students to be excused to participate in Released Time, provided that certain requirements are met.
In addition, any Released Time program would also need to ensure compliance with the court approved guidepost for Released Time programs. These include:
1) The school cannot fund the Released Time program, other than de minimis administrative costs (such as the costs of a school board approving a local Released Time policy).
2) Released Time programs cannot take place on school premises; and
3) Student participation in Released Time programs must be voluntary. There cannot be any coercion on the part of any school official.
However, these three points are not exclusive. One should conduct thorough research on the latest state and federal laws and court decisions to determine if there are any updated guidelines for a Released Time program to follow.
Additionally, in grades where credit is earned, schools can award academic credits for participation in a Released Time program provided that the programs meet certain requirements.
Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. However, with community support, a carefully researched approach, and a proposal consistent with state law, you should expect success in gaining approval for the program.
Ala. Code § 16-1-20.6
(a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Alabama Released Time Credit Act.
(b) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) That the United States Supreme Court, in its decision in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), upheld the constitutionality of released time programs for religious instruction for public school students during the school day.
(2) That the United States Constitution and state law allows local school districts to offer religious released time education for the benefit of public school students.
(3) That the purpose of this section is to incorporate a constitutionally acceptable method of allowing school districts to offer released time classes and, in grades where credit is earned, to award students elective credit for classes taken during the school day in released time programs.
(c) As used in this section, the term released time means a period of time during the school day when a student is allowed to participate in an elective course in religious instruction, conducted off school district property, by a private entity.
(d) The State Board of Education shall adopt and each local board of education may implement a policy for a student to attend released time as an elective course if all of the following are satisfied:
(1) The parent or guardian of the student gives written consent.
(2) The sponsoring entity maintains attendance records and makes them available to the public school the student attends.
(3) The sponsoring entity makes provisions for and assumes liability for the student who is excused for released time.
(4) No public funds are expended other than de minimis administrative costs.
(5) No public school personnel are involved in providing the religious instruction.
(e) In grades where credit is earned, a student who participates in released time may earn elective course credit for participation, as provided by rules adopted by the State Board of Education for elective courses. Credit awarded may not exceed normal credit given for an elective course in the particular school system. The State Board of Education shall also adopt minimum standards for class attendance necessary to qualify for credit.
(f) A student who participates in religious instruction for elective credit during released time shall be credited with time spent as if the student attended school, and the time shall be calculated as part of the actual school day.
(g) Transportation to and from the place of released time, including transportation for any student with disabilities, is the complete responsibility of the sponsoring private entity, parent, guardian, or student and may not be arranged, coordinated, or provided for by public school personnel.
(h) No student may be released from a required core curriculum class to attend released time.
Jaffree v. Wallace, 705 F.2d 1526 (11th Cir. 1983)
In 1983, the 11th Circuit decided Jaffree, a case on school prayer. In that case, the court discussed Zorach v. Clauson (the U.S. Supreme Court case upholding constitutionality of released-time programs) as a case in which “religious instruction off school grounds implemented by [a] New York school board [was] held constitutional.” Id. at 1535.
Benning v. Georgia, 391 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2004)
Similarly, in Benning, the 11th Circuit cited Zorach as the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that “Public schools may establish programs providing release time for the religious instruction of students.” Id. at 1310.
*The rulings of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.