Kentucky is one of several states that requires schools to permit students to attend Released Time. Any student who desires to participate in released time shall be excused for at least one hour each school week to attend the off-site religious instruction. Students who attend Released Time shall be counted as if they had been in attendance at the public schools.
This opens the door for Released Time in every school district in the state. Released Time programs should be operating in every school in the state to ensure that students are able to take advantage of their right under state law to participate in religious instruction.
An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district has authority to 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.
In addition, the program would 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.
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.200
“The boards of education of independent and county school districts may provide for moral instruction of pupils in their jurisdiction, in the manner provided in KRS 158.210 to 158.260.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.210
“The board of education of each school district may authorize a complete survey of all the pupils attending the public schools within the district and determine those pupils who desire moral instruction and have the consent of parent or guardian for the instruction.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.220
“The boards of education shall allow pupils who have expressed a desire for moral instruction to be excused for at least one (1) hour, one (1) day each week to attend their respective places of worship or some other suitable place to receive moral instruction in accordance with the religious faith or preference of the pupils.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.230
“Each board of education may make arrangements with the persons in charge of the moral instruction as the board deems necessary and advisable.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.240
“Pupils who attend the classes for moral instruction at the time specified and for the period fixed shall be credited with the time spent as if they had been in actual attendance in school, and the time shall be calculated as part of the actual school work required by KRS 158.060. The pupil shall not be penalized for any school work missed during the specified time.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.250
“Any pupil who does not participate in the moral instruction shall remain in school during the time when the instruction is being given, and shall take noncredit enrichment courses or participate in educational activities not required in the regular curriculum, and that time shall be calculated as part of the actual schoolwork required by KRS 158.060. Students of different grade levels may be placed into combined classrooms in accordance with maximum class size allotments as described in KRS 157.360. These courses or activities shall be supervised by certified school personnel and may include, but are not limited to, the following: study hall, computer instruction, music, art, library, physical education, and tutorial assistance.”
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 158.260
“Moral instruction shall be given without expense to any board of education beyond the cost of the original survey. These courses or activities shall be supervised by certified school personnel and may include but are not limited to the following: study hall, computer instruction, music, art, library, physical education, and tutorial assistance.”
1961 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 508
The Church of the Good Shepherd could, on a released time basis, provide confirmation instruction of one hour each week in parish buildings to students attending the public school system.
1963 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 937
The legislature intended that the students be released from school for one hour each week to go to religious instruction conducted by religious organizations of their faith without any coercion by teachers or school administrators.
1966 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 116
Whether students will actually be excused to receive moral instruction at a parochial school is discretionary with the Board of Education.
1968 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 254
A local school board has authority to excuse students for organized religious services or instruction but that authority is limited to one day per week and to a number of hours to be established by the board within the limits prescribed, the minimum being one hour and the maximum determined by the length of the services or instruction.
1975 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 0218
Sections KRS 158.200 to 158.260 do not authorize the releasing of pupils for moral instruction on any basis other than one hour per week, and thus a released on accumulated basis, though equivalent, violates these sections.
1975 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 595
It is prohibited to use public school buildings for moral instruction classes, irrespective of whether or not rent is paid for the use of the premises.
1975 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 643
School buses may be used to transport children participating in a released school time program of moral instruction where the school is reimbursed by the sponsors of the program for the actual expense of operating the buses for that purpose.
1978-1979 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 515
The school board cannot implement a policy penalizing students who are excusably absent from school.
1992-1993 Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 153
This opinion affirms that “absent students shall be counted present if attending classes for moral instruction pursuant to KRS 158.240.”
Wooley v. Spalding, 293 S.W. 2d 563 (1956)
In Wooley, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky upheld an injunction prohibiting a local school board from (1) expending public funds for religious or sectarian purposes (2) keeping sectarian periodicals in the school libraries (3) and stopping the operating of public school buses on religious holidays. The court emphasized that the U.S. Supreme Court guidelines concerning “released time” as set forth in Zorach v. Clauson and McCollum v. Board of Education must be respected and followed in Kentucky public schools. Therefore, no public funds can be expended for promoting or providing religious moral instruction.