STATUTES: LOUISIANA REVISED STATUTES TITLE 17
According to Louisiana compulsory attendance law, all children, ages 7-15 (inclusive), must attend a public or private school [§221(a)] or participate in an approved home study program (§236).
There is no specific statutory permission or authorization for Released Time programs in Louisiana. Children are exempted from compulsory attendance, however, if their religious faith "requires absence for the observance of special and recognized holidays of the child's own faith" [§226 (3) (d)]. This may be applicable to an extent in allowing the operation of Released Time programs.
EDUCATION REGULATIONS: (Policy)
According to David Hamilton, the General Counsel of the State Board of Education (See letter of October 7, 1982 to the Avoyelles Parish School Board), each local school board has the discretion to grant Released Time for purposes of religious instruction.
There is no legal requirement that a board establish a Released Time program, but it is constitutional if the board does choose to permit Released Time for religious instruction. Several conditions must be met:1) Each local board must reasonably limit the time of religious instruction. 2) Parents must apply for Released Time for their children. 3) No public school involvement. 4) Religious instruction must be off school premises. 5) A child may not receive credit for such religious instruction. (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306). The State Board of Education believes it does have the authority, pursuant to Title 17, by regulation, to authorize Released Time programs in local school districts. The specifics of the program, including the days and hours of Released Time, are left to the local boards to work out with the particular sectarian groups wishing to offer religious instruction (See "Position Paper on Released Time" prepared by David Hamilton and Gerald Cobb of the State Board of Education), CASES: None 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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