Released Time Laws and Guidelines
State of Pennsylvania
STATUTES: PENNSYLVANIA STATUTES ANNOTATED, TITLE 24
Pennsylvania compulsory attendance law (section 13-1327), requires that all children, ages 8-16 (inclusive), must attend a day school in which the subjects and activities prescribed by the standards of the State Board of Education are taught in the English language. A child may also otherwise be instructed by a private tutor.
Upon the written request of a parent, the superintendent of the school district shall excuse the parent's child in order to attend religious instruction (section 15-1546). The child will be released for such instruction no more than 36 hours per school year. The parent's request must identify and describe the religious instruction and the dates and hours for which the absence is requested. Following each absence, the parent must also furnish a writing to the district school superintendent attesting to the fact that the child did indeed attend the religious instruction that day.
EDUCATION REGULATIONS (Policy):
Released Time programs are arranged by each local school district subject to the guidelines of section 15-1546.
The Pennsylvania Depart3nent of Education (Harrisburg, phone: (717) 783-6788) recommends that the establishment of Released Time standards in a particular school district may be achieved by effective communication between parents and the local school boards. Unilateral action by the parent is not recommended.
CASES: 1) Commonwealth v. Bey 70 A. 2d 693 (1950)
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that a Mohammedan child, despite his parents' belief that Fridays were the sacred day of that religion, could not violate the compulsory school attendance laws through continuous absence from Friday classes. The court emphasized that "neither rights of religion nor rights of parenthood are beyond limitation." Acting to guard the general interest of the youth's well being, the State, as "Parents Patriae" may restrict the parent's control by requiring school attendance. The state's authority is not nullified merely because the parent grounds his claim to control the child's absences on religion or conscience. In other words, the state has given the Board of Education broad discretion in granting excuses for a child's absences.
2) Commonwealth v. Hall 455 A. 2d 674 (1983)
The court upheld the ruling of a local school board that excused absences for "educational trips" only up to 5 days. the court stated:
The Courts are not prone to disturb a school board's decision. Indeed, they are without jurisdiction to interfere therewith unless it is apparent that the school board's conduct is arbitrary, capricious and to the prejudice of the public interest (Hall at 676).
Local school boards, in short, have discretionary authority to determine what constitutes a sufficient excuse for absence from school (see Hall, at 677). However, local school boards must comply with the statutory requirements (section 15-1546) when granting excuses for Released Time for religious instruction.
ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS: - None
The first step is to gather as much information as you can about Pennsylvania's Released Time statute, what classes, if any, are being conducted, and how a Released Time program may address state educational objectives (e.g. self-esteem, values education). Determine who will make the decision whether to allow a program and make an appointment to see that person. If the principal refers you to the school board, you would be wise to meet individually with school board members before presenting the concept at a school board meeting.
You should contact Jim Roberts with CBM Ministries in Greencastle. He has personally assisted many groups in the state of Pennsylvania and serves on the NARTCE Board. With a carefully crafted approach and with statutory recognition, you should expect success in gaining approval for the program.
Information provided by: The Fellowship of Christian Released Time Ministries
Released Time organizations in the state of Pennsylvania
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