General Information

Iowa state law allows students to be excused from attending school for the purpose of “receiving religious instruction.” As a result, a Released Time program in Iowa 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. 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.


Iowa Code Ann. § 299.1A
Compulsory attendance laws require children who are “the age of six and … under sixteen years of age by September 15” to attend school. If a child turns 16 on or after September 15 while enrolled in a public or accredited private school, he is of compulsory attendance age until the end of the school year.

Iowa Code Ann. § 299.2(4)
Iowa’s compulsory attendance requirements do not apply to a child “while attending religious services or receiving religious instructions.”



Attorney General

Op. Att’y Gen., 1953, p. 73
The Attorney General recognizes that the Board of Directors of an Iowa School District may make provision to excuse pupils so that they may attend religious instruction. There are four basic requirements which must be met:
1) Students may be excused one hour per week for religious instruction;
2) A student may only be released upon written request by his parents to the local Board of Education;
3) Religious instruction must be given by Non-school personnel; and
4) Religious instruction must be given at places which are not part of public school premises.

 Case Law

Several cases within the 8th Circuit have made summary references to Zorach. See e.g., Bogen v. Doty, 598 F.2d 1110, 1113 (8th Cir. 1979) (In Zorach, the “practice of releasing students for periods of religious instruction [was] upheld.”); Brusca v. Missouri, 332 F. Supp. 275, n. 2 (E.D. Mo. 1971)(stating that Zorach, when read in conjunction with McCollum v. Bd. of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948), “teaches that it is one thing to cooperate with religion by permitting the release of public school children for religious instruction without cost to the state on off-school premises, and quite another to assist such a religious program financially, even to the limited extent of allowing the use of school buildings for that purpose.”).

*The rulings of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.