Delaware, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Delaware 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.
14 Del. C. § 2702
Compulsory attendance laws require children to attend school “between 5 [on or before August 31] and 16 years of age,” unless the local school authorities determine that beginning school is not “in the best interest of the child.”
Opinion of the Attorney General 64-034, September 4, 1964
The Attorney General stated: “Upon written request of parents, students may obtain released time for religious exercises or instruction off of the school premises. Those students not securing released time would remain in school. The School Board may determine when such released time may be allowed.”
The opinion also emphasizes that Released Time programs are constitutional because it involves no State sponsorship of religion nor is the State antagonistic toward religion. Released Time does not violate the position of “neutrality” required of the State on matters of religion.
ACLU v. Black Horse Pike Reg’l Bd. of Educ., 84 F.3d 1471 (3d Cir. 1996)
In ACLU v. Black Horse Pike Reg’l Bd. of Educ., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals referenced Zorach v. Clauson as having upheld “statutory ‘released time’ program whereby public schools release students during the school day to receive off-site religious education.” Id. at 1487. While this case was dealing with constitutional issues unrelated to released-time programs, the circuit court’s references to the Zorach case in this way implies that this circuit recognizes Zorach’s upholding of a released-time program as constitutionally valid.
*The rulings of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.