Released Time Laws and Guidelines
State of Washington
Washington Revised Code Annotated
The Washington compulsory attendance law (§28A.27.010) 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."
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" (§28A.27.010). These purposes may include religious purposes according to Perry v. School District, No. 81, Infra. Such excused absences will be allowed as long as a student's educational progress will not be adversely affected and the student can still be considered as a full-time student.
EDUCATION REGULATIONS: (Policy)
The superintendent is vested with discretionary authority to excuse students for Released Time for religious instruction. Released time programs are allowed as long as they follow the guidelines set forth in Perry v. School District, Infra. (State Dept. of Education, phone: 206-753-2562)
CASES: 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. The court held that Released time programs involving religious instruction off of public school property, for a duration of up to one hour per week and with written parental consent, do not violate the Constitution if practiced in a manner not inconsistent with First Amendment limitations.
The court concluded, the superintendent of schools is vested with statutory discretion to excuse pupils from the operation of the enactment for reasons recited in the statute and for "any other sufficient reason." The release of children upon the parent's request for religious instruction constitutes an exercise of this statutory authority. (Perry at 1043).
ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS:
1) Op. Atty. General 1925-26, p.109
The District Superintendent has the authority to excuse children from attendance for reason, which he deems sufficient.
2) Op. Atty. 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).
Like your state, many do not have specific laws or guidelines concerning Released Time. The absence of a specific law does not necessarily prohibit Released Time programs. In fact, it may allow a wider range of Released Time programs. For example, it is possible to offer Released Time classes as an off-campus elective class on the High School or Junior High level, which students take daily. This is being done in states such as Georgia, Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho.
The particular challenge in your state is that in the absence of a specific statute, you will need to conduct research into the legal background of Released Time at the federal level (FCRTM can help!), and how decisions are made within your school system. The majority of school districts would require approval at the school board level, but many are moving to "site-based management,' which would perhaps allow individual school principals to approve a Released Time program. Once your research is complete, you will need to approach the appropriate decision-maker(s) with a proposal for a Released Time class.
Even with the Supreme Court decision of 1952 (Zorach vs. Clauson), we must remember that approval for a Released Time program is a privilege, not a right. School principals and school boards may accommodate a Released time program, but they are not required to do so. Experience teaches us that a carefully crafted approach, coupled with a positive relationship with school officials will usually open the doors for a Released Time program.
The Fellowship of Christian Released Time Ministries
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