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 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.
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.”
1949 S.D. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 49-50
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.
1947 S.D. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 47-48
A parent or guardian cannot permit a student to freely dismiss school for religious purposes.
1975 S.D. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 75-43
“It is my opinion that a school can not legally allow released time classes to meet in vacant classrooms in the public school.
At 79 ALR 2 1150, 1163 there is an extensive discussion of the subject of use of school buildings for a religious purpose. One of the most recent cases there discussed is the case of State Board of Education v. Board of Education of Netcong, 262 A. 2d 21 (1970). Affirmed 270 A. 2d 412 (1970), cert denied 401 U.S. 1Ol3
In the Netcong case, the school board implemented a permissive attendance “period for the free exercise of religion” prior to the opening of school. At this “period” a volunteer would conduct a meditation based on the chaplain's remarks from the Congressional Record. This was held to violate the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.”
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.