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 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.
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.
Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-693
(a) Children during the ages of mandatory attendance as required in subsection (a) of Code Section 20-2-690.1 who are 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 shall be exempt from this subpart. The state board, in promulgating its general policies and regulations, shall take into consideration sickness and other emergencies which may arise in any school community.
(b) Children during the ages of mandatory attendance as required in subsection (a) of Code Section 20-2-690.1 who are excused from attendance at private schools or home study programs for sickness or emergencies or for other reasons substantially the same as the reasons for excused absences from attendance at public school authorized by state board policy pursuant to subsection (a) of this Code section shall be exempt from this subpart.
Ga. Cop. R. & Regs. 160-5-1-.10
(b) Local boards of education shall adopt policies and procedures excusing students from school under the following circumstances, as a minimum. Policies may require submission of appropriate documentation.
1968 Ga. 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.
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.