Minnesota 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 three hours per week.
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.
Minn. Stat. Ann. § 120A.22, Subd. 12(a)(3)
“A parent, guardian, or other person having control of a child may apply to a school district to have the child excused from attendance for the whole or any part of the time school is in session during any school year. Application may be made to any member of the board, a truant officer, a principal, or the superintendent. The school district may state in its school attendance policy that it may ask the student’s parent or legal guardian to verify in writing the reason for the child's absence from school. A note from a physician or a licensed mental health professional stating that the child cannot attend school is a valid excuse. The board of the district in which the child resides may approve the application upon the following being demonstrated to the satisfaction of that board: …
That it is the wish of the parent, guardian, or other person having control of the child, that the child attend for a period or periods not exceeding in the aggregate three hours in any week, a school for religious instruction conducted and maintained by some church, or association of churches, or any Sunday school association incorporated under the laws of this state, or any auxiliary thereof. This school for religious instruction must be conducted and maintained in a place other than a public school building, and it must not, in whole or in part, be conducted and maintained at public expense. However, a child may be absent from school on such days as the child attends upon instruction according to the ordinances of some church.”
1974 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 169-0
“For the reasons stated earlier in the opinion, it is our view that if a rule, or ordinance, of a church provides that instruction is necessary to obtain or retain membership in the church, or to entitle one to the full benefits of membership, then the statute authorizes an absence from school.”
1944 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 170-F-2
If an application is made in good faith to the school board by a parent requesting a student to be excused from attendance in order to receive religious instruction, the board must grant the excuse to the extent provided in the statute.
1943 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 169-C
It is improper to include a grade for religious instruction on a public school student’s report card since religious instruction is separate from instruction obtained in the public schools.
1943 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 169-0
A written application by the parents requesting permission for their child to be excused for religious instruction is mandatory.
1941 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 169-0
The religious instruction for which a student may be excused from school cannot be given in a school building in which a public school is maintained.
1934 Minn. Op. Att’y Gen., No. 170-F
A school board, within its discretion, may excuse a child for religious training for the full 3 hours, or less than 3 hours, or it may refuse to excuse a child for any period.
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.