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General Information

Oregon state law gives each local school unit the option of adopting a local policy that permits students to participate in Released Time. Elementary students may be released for up to two hours per week, and high school students may be released for up to five 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.

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

Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 339.010
“All children between the ages of 6 and 18 years who have not completed the 12th grade are required to regularly attend a public full-time school during the entire school term.” Children may attend a private or parochial full-time school instead.

Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 339.420
“Upon application of the parent or guardian of the child, or, if the child has attained the age of majority, upon application of the child, a child attending the public school may be excused from school for periods not exceeding two hours in any week for elementary pupils and five hours in any week for secondary pupils to attend weekday schools giving instruction in religion.”

Regulations

None

Attorney General Opinions

27 Op. Att’y Gen. (1954-56) 46
After parents ask a school board to approve a Released Time program, the school board may not arbitrarily refuse to grant the application. The school board, however, may exercise discretion in disapproving applications if the program would interfere with regular school programming.

23 Op. Att’y Gen. (1946-48) 473
Released Time programs are lawful. However, religious instruction on public school premises or the use of public funds for such religious instruction violates the First Amendment.

46 Or. Op. Att’y Gen. (1989) 239
A school district cannot permit a Christian organization to distribute brochures for Released Time programs on campus during school hours. This would deviate from religious neutrality by “indicating official sponsorship or encouragement of the religious education offered in the CEF’s release time program.”

Case Law

Dilger v. School District, 352 P2d 564 (1960)
In Dilger v. School District, the Supreme Court of Oregon upheld the validity of the Oregon Released Time Statute. The court ruled that, in one sense, the statute is mandatory because the child must be excused upon a proper application. In another sense, the statute is discretionary in permitting the administrator of the school to adjust the time within which the child will be released. Id. at 568. The court emphasized that although the statute states a child “may be excused,” it is proper to construe the word “may” as meaning “shall” in order to carry out the intention of the legislature. Id. In conclusion, the school officials must grant parents’ permission to have their children released for religious instruction. On the other hand, the public school may dictate the days and time the children may be excused.

Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2010).
In Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., the 9th Circuit referenced Zorach v. Clauson, describing it as a case “in which school children were allowed to be excused from public schools for religious observances and education.” Id. At 1026. While the Newdow case was dealing with a constitutional issue unrelated to released-time programs, the court’s reference to the Zorach case shows that this circuit recognized Zorach’s upholding of a released-time program as constitutionally valid.

Other court decisions by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have referenced Zorach in a similar manner. See e.g., Prince v. Jacoby, 303 F.3d 1074, 1099 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that Zorach upheld “release time program where religious classes were not held on school property and there was no indication that the public schools enforced attendance at religious schools by punishing absentees from the released time programs for truancy.” (internal quotations omitted)); Cammack v. Waihee, No. 87-15073, 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 18115 at *38 (9th Cir. Aug. 9, 1991) (stating that in Zorach, “the Court rejected an establishment clause challenge to a program whereby public schools released students for a limited time for off-campus religious instruction”); Collins v. Chandler Unified School Dist. 644 F.2d 759, 761 (9th Cir. 1981) (stating that in Zorach, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “releasing students to attend religious activities off school grounds [is] constitutionally valid”).

*The rulings of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are binding precedent in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.