Connecticut, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Connecticut would need to obtain permission from the local school board for students to participate in the program. It would also need to ensure compliance with the guidepost for Released Time programs provided by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) and Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). These guideposts 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, encouragement, or discouragement 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.
Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district can authorize a program and make an appointment to see that person. If the principal refers the organization to the school board, it would be wise to meet individually with school board members before presenting the concept at a meeting of the whole board.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-184
Connecticut compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 5 to “under 18” must attend public school, or the parents must show that that child is “elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools.”
Mark Stapleton, Chief of Legal Affairs in the State Board of Education expressed that Released Time programs are allowed in Connecticut but each local school board issues its own specific Released Time regulations.
Attorney General Opinions
Pierce ex rel. Pierce v. Sullivan West Central School District, 379 F.3d 56 (2d Cir 2004)
In Pierce, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that New York’s Education Law provision allowing “Released Time” from public schools for religious instruction did not violate Establishment Clause as implemented by school district. The local program did not use public funds or involve on-site religious instruction, the program was purely voluntary, and there was no specific coercion or pressure brought to bear on non-participants by school officials.
In McCreary v. Stone, 739 F.2d 716 (2d Cir. 1984), the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals referenced Zorach v. Clauson as standing for the proposition that a “program allowing release of students during school hours for religious instruction” did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Id. at 726. Similarly, in Katcoff v. March, 755 F.2d 223 (2d. Cir. 1985), the 2nd Circuit cited Zorach as “upholding school released time program for religious instruction outside [the] city’s school system.” Id. at 233. While these cases were dealing with constitutional issues unrelated to released-time programs, the circuit court’s references to the Zorach case implies that this circuit still recognizes Zorach’s upholding of a released-time program as constitutionally valid.
*The rulings of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.