STATUTES: IOWA CODE ANNOTATED
According to Iowa compulsory attendance Law (§299.1) all children, ages 7-15 (inclusive), must attend public school or "attend upon equivalent instruction by a certified teacher elsewhere."
The compulsory attendance requirements, however, do not apply to a child "while attending religious services or receiving religious instructions" (§299.2 (4)). This statute expressly allows public school children to attend religious instruction without violating compulsory attendance laws.
EDUCATION REGULATIONS (Policy):
Even though the Iowa Code provides for released time for religious instruction, no specific time guidelines are given. Therefore, according to Larry Bartlett, legal counsel to the Iowa Department of Public Instruction (Des Moines, 515-281-5295), specific time limits are left to the discretion of each school district. Each child seeking to be released from public school attendance for religious instruction must obtain permission from his local school board.
CASES: No cases reported.
ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS:
(1) Op. Atty. Gen., 1953, p. 73
The Attorney General recognizes that the Board of Directors of an Iowa School District may make provision to excuse pupils so that they may attend religious instruction. There are four basic requirements which must be met:1) Students may only be excused one hour per week for religious instruction. 2) A student may only be released upon written request by his parents to the local Board of Education. 3) Religious instruction must be given by Non-school personnel. 4) Religious instruction must be given at places which are not part of public school premises. (2) Op. Atty. Gen., 1928, p. 228 The Attorney General further describes the parameters of legislative intent by stating that parents cannot demand that pupils be excused during the regular school day for the purpose of religious education "Nor demand extra time from the teacher or regular schedules to make up work lost by such absences." Credit also cannot be given in religious instruction given outside of school if it supplants the class work missed while the students are absent. Instead, students may be required to make up the work. In conclusion, students may be excused from school for any proper purpose including the right to secure religious instruction in other schools, unless to do so seriously interferes with and impairs their school studies. Therefore, students may be temporarily absent from school for such purposes without violating the compulsory attendance law (Op. Atty. Gen 1928, p. 92).
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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