releastedtimelogo

General Information

New Mexico state law gives each school the option of adopting a local policy that permits students to participate in Released Time. Students may be released for up to one class period per school day at a time that is not in conflict with the academic program of the school.

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

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-12-2
New Mexico compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 6-16 (inclusive), must “attend a public school, a private school, or a state institution.”

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-12-3
“A student may, subject to the approval of the school principal, be absent from school to participate in religious instruction for not more than one class period per school day with the written consent of the student’s parent at a time that is not in conflict with the academic program of the school. The public school shall provide time for the student to make up the school work missed during the absence. The school district or the public school shall not assume responsibility for the religious instruction of any student or permit religious instruction to be conducted on school property.”

Regulations

None

Attorney General Opinions

None

Case Law

Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349 (10th Cir. 1981)
In Lanner v. Wimmer, 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.

*The rulings of the 10th Circuit of Appeals are binding precedent in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.