STATUTES: Illinois Annotated Statutes Title 122
Under the Illinois compulsory attendance law (§26-1) all children, ages 7-15 (inclusive), must attend a public school or "a private or parochial school where children are taught the branches of education" that are offered in public schools. Such instruction must be given in the English language.
Although there is no explicit statute allowing or governing released time programs, two major cases by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Illinois Supreme Court clearly allow released time for religious instruction provided certain conditions are met (these conditions will be discussed in a later section). In §26-1 (4), any child over 12 and under 14 years of age may be excused from compulsory attendance requirements while attending confirmation classes. Since confirmation classes are offered at the child's church and involve religious instruction, this statute could be used to uphold certain types of released time programs for this specific age group.
EDUCATION REGULATIONS (Policy):
Local school authorities have the discretionary power to determine what constitutes a sufficient excuse for absence from school. As a result, each local school board may authorize the Superintendent of schools to excuse public school children each week for the purpose of attending religious classes away from school property. Each district may differ as to how they handle their released time programs.
CASES: McCollum v. Board of Education 333 U.S. 203 (1948)In McCollum, taxpayer of a school district and parent of a child enrolled in the public school district, brought an action challenging the Board of Education's established program of religious instruction conducted in the public school building. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a program where children were temporarily released from secular study on the condition they attend religious classes conducted in the public school building violated the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment. The Court concluded that offering religious instruction on public school property involved a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups and spread their faith, thereby rendering such a released time program unconstitutional. The Supreme Court seems to imply that released time programs are constitutional as long as they take place off of school property. Laimer v. Board of Education 68 N.E. 2d 305 (1946) n Laimer, the Illinois Supreme Court denied petitioner's suit to compel the Board of Education of Chicago to revoke its action authorizing a Superintendent of schools to excuse public school pupils for the purpose of attending religious educational classes at places away from school property. The Court held that this particular released time plan did not violate constitutional prohibitions relating to the establishment or free exercise of religion, depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, denying any person equal protection of the laws or allowing the use of public funds in aid of any church or sectarian purpose. Ever since this decision, the Superintendent of schools may excuse public school children, at the request of their parents, for one hour each week for the purpose of attending religious classes as long as the instruction is not given on school property or by public school teachers. ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS: None
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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