Idaho’s Released Time statute allows for a students in grades 9-12 to be excused, with parental permission, to attend religious instruction. Students may be excused for up to 5 periods per week or 165 hours per school year. No credit can be offered for the completion of this instruction but may be offered for other purposes. This excusal is at the discretionary of the school board.
A program would also need to ensure compliance with the court approved guideposts 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. However, with community support, a carefully researched approach, and a proposal consistent with state law, you should expect success in gaining approval for the program.
Idaho Code Ann. § 33-519
“Upon application of his parent or guardian, or, if the student has attained the age of eighteen (18) years, upon application of the student, a student attending a public school in grades nine (9) through twelve (12) may be excused from school for a period not exceeding five (5) periods in any week or not exceeding one hundred sixty-five (165) hours per student during any one (1) school year for religious or other purposes. Release time pursuant to this section shall be scheduled by the board of trustees upon application as provided herein and the board shall have reasonable discretion over the scheduling and timing of release time. Release time pursuant to this section shall not reduce the minimum graduation requirements for accredited Idaho high schools. The provisions of this section shall not be deemed to authorize the use of any public school facility for religious instruction. The board of trustees of a school district may not authorize the use of, and public school facilities, personnel or equipment may not be utilized, to maintain attendance records for the benefit of release time classes for religious instruction. No credit shall be awarded by the school or school district for completion of courses during release time for religious purposes. At the discretion of the board credit may be granted for other purposes.”
Idaho Admin. Code r. 08.02.02.220
The Idaho Administrative Code provides the following regulations further delineating the requirements for school districts that permit Released Time programs. According to the regulation, “these practices are designed to ensure that the public school operation is not adversely affected and that the public funds and property are not used for sectarian religious instruction in a way which violates the United States Constitution, the Idaho State Constitution, or state law. These practices should include the following:
01. Scheduling. The local school board will have reasonable discretion over the scheduling and timing of the release program. Release time programs may not interfere with the scheduling of classes, activities and programs of the public schools…
02. Voluntary Decision. The decision of a school district to permit release time programs for kindergarten through grade eight (K-8), as well as the decision of individual students to participate, must be purely voluntary…
03. Time Limit. Release time will be scheduled upon the application of a parent or guardian of a student in grades nine through twelve (9-12), not to exceed five (5) periods per week or one hundred sixty-five (165) hours during any one (1) academic school year...
04. Location. Release time programs will be conducted away from public school buildings and public school property…
05. Request by Parent. No student will be permitted to leave the school grounds during the school day to attend release time programs except upon written request from a parent or guardian filed with the school principal. Such written request by the parent will become a part of the student’s permanent record…
06. Record Maintenance. The public school will not be responsible for maintaining attendance records for a student who, upon written request of a parent or guardian, is given permission to leave the school grounds to attend a release time program. The school district will maintain a record of each student’s daily schedule that indicates when a student is released for classes in religious education or for other purposes…
07. Liability. The school district is responsible for ensuring that no public school property, public funds or other public resources are used in any way to operate these programs. The school district is not liable for any injury, act or event occurring while the student participates in such programs…
08. Course Credit. No credit will be awarded by the school or district for satisfactory completion by a student of a course or courses in release time for religious instruction. Credit may be granted for other purposes, at the discretion of the local school board...
09. Separation From Public Schools. Public schools will not include schedules of classes for release time programs in school catalogs, registration forms or any other regularly printed public school material… Registration for release time programs must occur off school premises, and must be done on forms and supplies furnished by the group or institution offering the program. Teachers of release time programs are not to be considered members of any public school faculty and should not be asked to participate as faculty members in any school functions or to assume responsibilities for operation of any part of the public school program…
10. Transportation Liability. Public schools and school districts will not be liable or responsible for the health, safety and welfare of students while they are being transported to and from or participating in release time programs…”
Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2010).
In Newdow, the 9th Circuit referenced Zorach v. Clauson, describing it as a case “in which school children were allowed to be excused from public schools for religious observances and education.” Id. at 1026.
Other court decisions by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have referenced Zorach in a similar manner. See e.g., Prince v. Jacoby, 303 F.3d 1074, 1099 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that Zorach upheld “release time program where religious classes were not held on school property and there was no indication that the public schools enforced attendance at religious schools by punishing absentees from the released time programs for truancy.” (internal quotations omitted)); Cammack v. Waihee, No. 87-15073, 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 18115 at *38 (9th Cir. Aug. 9, 1991) (stating that in Zorach, “the Court rejected an establishment clause challenge to a program whereby public schools released students for a limited time for off-campus religious instruction”); Collins v. Chandler Unified School Dist. 644 F.2d 759, 761 (9th Cir. 1981) (stating that in Zorach, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “releasing students to attend religious activities off school grounds [is] constitutionally valid”).
*The rulings of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.