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General Information

Georgia, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Georgia 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.

Statutes

Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-690.1
Georgia’s compulsory attendance statute requires that all children, ages 6-16 (inclusive), must attend public school, private school, or a home study program.

Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-693
A child must be excused from attendance in public school by county or independent school system boards “in accordance with general policies and regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education.” Under this statute, a child may possibly obtain permission to be excused from public school in order to receive religious instruction.

Regulations

None

Attorney General Opinions

1968 Op. Att’y Gen. No. 68-228
A 1968 opinion by the Georgia Attorney General stated that if authorized by general policies of the Georgia State Board of Education, local school boards can authorize released-time programs provided they are not directly or indirectly financed by public funds and students are not coerced to attend the program or school employees.

Case Law

Jaffree v. Wallace, 705 F.2d 1526 (11th Cir. 1983)
In 1983, the 11th Circuit decided Jaffree v. Wallace, 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 v. Georgia, 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. While both of these cases dealt with constitutional issues unrelated to released-time programs, the court’s references to the Zorach case in these ways implies that this circuit still recognizes Zorach’s upholding of released-time programs as constitutionally valid.

*The rulings of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.