Michigan is one of several states that requires school boards to release students to participate in religious instruction “for not more than 2 class hours per week.” This statute 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.
In addition, any Released Time program 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.
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.
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.
Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 380.1561(3)(d)
“A child is not required to attend a public school in any of the following cases: … The child is regularly enrolled in a public school while in attendance at religious instruction classes for not more than 2 class hours per week, off public school property during public school hours, upon written request of the parent, guardian, or person in loco parentis.”
1962 Mich. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 60
In this opinion, the Attorney General concluded that “a religious training program conducted on public school property, either during the normal school day, or at any time when the authority of the school is applied to the pupils through its teachers or other officials, fails to meet the standards set by our Federal and State Constitutions.”
Citizens to Advance Public Education v. Porter, 237 N.W. 232 (1976)
In Citizens to Advance Public Education, the court of appeals of Michigan held that shared time secular educational programs, which provide secular instruction for nonpublic and church related schools, “do not offend the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions.” Id. at 238. The shared time secular education programs may be operated on premises leased from nonpublic schools but the programs must be (1) under the authority and control of public schools, (2) operated by public school employees and (3) open to all students eligible to attend public schools.
The Michigan Appeals Court, furthermore, emphasized that shared time programs, like Released Time programs, “merely enable parents to take advantage of both the secular education offered by our public schools and the sectarian education by parochial schools.” Id. at 238. The court added that it recognizes Zorach v. Clauson as controlling precedent in the area of Released Time. The guidelines set forth in Zorach must be followed when establishing a Released Time program for public students in Michigan.
Americans United for Separation of Church & State v. Porter, 485 F. Supp. 432, 432 (W.D. Mich. 1980)
In Americans United, the court held that “the release of public school students from classes to attend religious activities is constitutionally permissible.” Id. at 443 (citing Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 346 (1952)).