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General Information

Michigan state law gives each local school unit the option of adopting a local policy that permits students to participate in Released Time. Students may be released for up to two hours per week.

In addition, any Released Time program 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.

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.

Statutes

Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 380.1561(1)
According to Michigan compulsory attendance law, all children, ages 6-16 (inclusive), must attend a public school unless a child is attending regularly and being taught in a “State approved non public school which teaches subjects comparable to those taught in the public schools.”

Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 380.1561(3)(e)
A child, however, will not be in violation of compulsory attendance if “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.”

 Regulations

None

Attorney General Opinions

None

Case Law

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.

Ams. United for Separation of Church & State v. Porter, 485 F. Supp. 432 (W.D. Mich. 1980)
In Ams. United for Separation of Church & State v. Porter, 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)).