Kansas, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Kansas 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 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. 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.
Kan. Stat. Ann. §72-3120(b)
“(b) If the child is 16 or 17 years of age, the child shall be exempt from the compulsory attendance requirements of this section if: (1) The child is regularly enrolled in and attending a program recognized by the local board of education as an approved alternative educational program.”
1978 Kan. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 78-339
Release time programs are at the discretion of the individual boards of education of the districts. However, if a school board allows the programs, the programs are deemed non-public schools and, like any non-public school, can enter a contract with the school district to utilize the public school buses when they are not in use.
1996 Kan. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 96-5
If the school district permits the school personnel to distribute information regarding student organizations or organizational representatives to distribute information on school district property, then the school district cannot prohibit a Released Time organization either from “abiding by the policy of the school district by either providing for distribution by school personnel information and materials regarding the Bible school or by having a representative of the Bible school distribute on school property information or materials regarding the Bible school.”
Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349, 1357 (10th Cir. 1981)
In Lanner, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Released Time programs in Utah permitting attendance at religious classes off school premises, did not offend the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. The court recognized that Zorach v. Clausen, permits the release of students during school hours for attendance at religious classes. Id. at 1358. These religious classes must be taught by religious teachers on private property. Id. at 1354. The court concluded that “neither the individual aspects of the Released Time program nor the cumulative effect of the various aspects of the program violate the Establishment Clause.” Id. at 1359.
Since the Utah Released Time program was substantially similar to the program in Zorach, the Utah program was declared constitutional. However, the court struck down two aspects of the program because they created too much entanglement between the school and the Released Time program.
First, the court determined that, although it was permissible for a school to prepare uniform attendance slips for a Released Time program to use to track student attendance, it created too much entanglement to have school personnel travel to the Released Time location to gather the attendance slips. The better alternative is for Released Time personnel to deliver the completed slips to the school.
Second, the schools recognized Released Time classes as elective credit, as custodial credit, as credit required for extra-curricular activities, and as credit used to determine the school’s eligibility for state financial aid. However, the school district would not award credit for “courses devoted mainly to denominational instruction.” The court held that granting credit for religious coursework is not unconstitutional in itself, just as it is permissible to recognize credits earned at a private religious school. The problem with the policy at issue was that it only awarded credit for programs that were not “denominational.” This standard impermissibly required the school to monitor the religious courses and determine what is overly denominational and what it is not. The court stated that the key for awarding credit for Released Time programs was for the school to have secular standards by which to measure the courses.
Country Hills Christian Church v. Unified Sch. Dist., 560 F. Supp. 1207 (D. Kan. 1983)
In Country Hills Christian Church, a federal district court in Kansas decided a case in which a school district was prohibiting a church from using its facility despite allowing all other community groups to use the facility. In its analysis of the school’s unconstitutional actions, the court stated, in relevant part, that while “[a] public school may not turn its classrooms over to religious instructors during school hours… [it] may accommodate its schedule to a program of outside religious instruction.” Id. at 1217 (citing Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952)). Although this case was not dealing directly with released-time programs, it nevertheless reiterates that it is permissible for public schools to allow these programs.
*The rulings of the 10th Circuit of Appeals are binding precedent in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.