Washington, like many other states, does not have specific laws regarding Released Time. As a result, a Released Time program in Washington would need to obtain permission from the local school board for students to participate in the program. It 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.
Keep in mind that school officials are not required to approve a program. An organization that wishes to start a new program should determine who in the school district can 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.
Wash. Rev. Code § 28a.225.010
The Washington compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 8-17 (inclusive), must attend a public school for the full time the school is in session “or attend a private school for the same time.”
Wash. Rev. Code § 28a.225.010.
There is no express statute either prohibiting or permitting public school students to be released for religious instruction. A child, however, may be excused upon the request of his parents “for purposes agreed upon by the school authorities and the parents”. These purposes may include religious purposes according to Perry v. School District, No. 81 (below).
Attorney General Opinions
Op. Att’y General 1925-26, p.109
The District Superintendent has the authority to excuse children from attendance for reason, which he deems sufficient.
Op. Att’y General 1921-22, p.196
Children attending public schools have the right to be excused during regular school hours for instruction in church schools (for which no credit is given).
Perry v. School District No. 81, 344 P2d 1036 (1959)
The Supreme Court of Washington recognized Zorach v. Clauson, 343 US. 306, as the standard for determining the constitutionality of Released Time programs. Off-campus, released-time religious instruction with written parental consent and not exceeding one hour per week does not violate the Constitution.
The court concluded that the school superintendent has statutory discretion to excuse students from school for any sufficient reason. Releasing students upon the parent’s request for religious instruction constitutes an exercise of this statutory authority. Id. at 1043.
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.