Florida is one of several states that requires school boards to adopt a policy allowing a student to be excused to participate in Released Time at the request of a parent.
This statute opens the door for Released Time in every school district in the state. Released Time programs should be operating in every school in the state to ensure that students are able to take advantage of their right under state law to participate in religious instruction.
All programs 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.
Fla. Stat. § 1003.21(2)(b)(1)
Florida law expressly authorizes a student’s “absence for religious instruction.” This section states that “[e]ach district school board, in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education, shall adopt a policy that authorizes a parent to request and be granted permission for absence of a student from school for religious instruction or religious holidays.”
Fla. Stat. § 1002.20(2)(c)
“A parent of a public school student may request and be granted permission for absence of the student from school for religious instruction or religious holidays, in accordance with the provisions of § 1003.21(2)(b)(1).”
Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 6A-1.09514
“(1) Each school district which chooses to permit release time during the school day for students to participate in religious instruction shall adopt rules to implement Section 1003.21. The school district’s rules shall include, but are not limited to, the following:
(a) Provisions establishing the procedures and time frames under which each religious institution which offers religious instruction will make its attendance records available to the school district. Such provisions shall not impair nor impede the school district’s established system of attendance recordkeeping although the school district may make adjustments in its system as long as the school district continues to comply with Sections 1003.23 and 1003.436, F.S. and Rule 6A-1.044, F.A.C.
(b) Provisions establishing the school district’s requirements for the acceptance by the religious institution or parents of responsibility for any liability involving students on release time. Such requirements shall as a minimum require the religious institution or parents to indemnify the school district and hold it harmless with respect to any liability arising from conduct which does not occur on property under the control or supervision of the school district, and to maintain adequate insurance for that purpose.
(c) Provisions which assure that decisions on requests for release time properly take into account the district’s pupil progression plan as stated in Section 1003.21.
(d) Provisions which give parents and students an opportunity to be heard in connection with a decision to terminate the permission given to a student to attend religious instruction during the school day.”
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)
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.