General Information

South Dakota state law gives each local school board the option permitting students to participate in Released Time. Students may be released for up to one hour per week, and the school board can decide what hour of the day students may be excused.

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.


S.D. Codified Laws § 13-27-1
South Dakota compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 6-18 (inclusive), must “attend regularly some public or nonpublic elementary school for the entire term” which the public school is in session.

S.D. Codified Laws § 13-33-10
“A child may, on application of his parent or guardian, be excused from school for one hour per week for the purpose of taking and receiving religious instruction conducted by some church or association of churches. The school board shall decide at what hour pupils may be excused. No such instruction may be given in whole or in part at public expense. The school board may allow the student to accumulate up to four hours of excused leave time to be taken consecutively on any one day or two hours to be taken on any two days.”



Attorney General Opinions

Report 1949-50
The Released Time law is constitutional and valid. However, the local superintendent or school board has broad discretionary authority to govern absences for Released Time religious instruction.

Report 1947-48
A parent or guardian cannot permit a student to freely dismiss school for religious purposes.

Attorney General Maurice A. Olson Opinion No. 75-43
Vacant public school classrooms may not be used for Released Time religious instruction.

Case Law

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.