SUMMARY for Tennessee

General Information

On April 28, 2015 the first released time bill for Tennessee was signed into law. Lawmakers passed this bill with 100% of the vote in the state house and senate. As of 07/16/2015 the new law does not, as of yet, have a reference number in the code of law, but the bill language can be found below in the statutes section.

 TN Department of Education Web Site

DETAILS for Tennessee


Tennessee Code Annotated

Tennessee compulsory attendance law requires that all children, ages 7-16 (inclusive), must attend public or private school. TENN. CODE ANN. § 49-6-3001

As noted above there is a law that will appear in the Tennessee code with in the next few months. The summary of the bill that will be the basis of the low is as follows:

Bill Summary

This bill requires local boards of education to adopt a policy that excuses a student from school to attend a released time course in religious moral instruction for at least one class period during each school week. This bill requires the following in regard to such a policy:

(1) The local board must provide a signed, written consent form to every school within the school district for the student's parent or legal guardian to sign prior to the student's participation in the released time course;

(2) The released time course must be conducted off public school property;

(3) The sponsoring entity must maintain attendance records and makes the records available to the LEA and the local board of education;

(4) Any transportation to and from the place of instruction, including transportation for students with disabilities, must be the responsibility of the sponsoring entity, parent, legal guardian, or student;

(5) The sponsoring entity must assume liability for the student attending the released time course from the time that the student leaves the school until the student returns to the school;

(6) No public funds may be expended and no public school personnel may be involved in providing the instruction for released time courses;

(7) The student must assume responsibility for any missed schoolwork;

(8) The local board of education, in consultation with the principal of the school, must determine the courses or electives from which the student may be excused to participate in the released time course; and

(9) The released time courses must coincide with school class schedules.

This bill specifies that the LEA, the local board of education, the local governing authority, and the state will not be liable for the student who participates in the released time course. Instructors of released time courses are not required to be certified. Instructors and other employees of the released time courses will be hired by the sponsoring entity.

A student who attends a released time course will be credited with time spent as if the student attended school, and the time will be calculated as part of the actual school day. The student will not be penalized for any schoolwork missed during released time.

This bill defines "released time course" as a period of time during which a student is excused from school to attend a course in religious moral instruction taught by a sponsoring entity off school property.


AMENDMENT #1 specifies that released time courses must be taught by an "independent entity" rather than a "sponsoring entity", makes the adoption of a released time course policy by LEAs permissive rather than mandatory, clarifies that a parent or guardian must sign a release form before a student can participate in a released time course, requires school principals or their designees rather than local boards to determine that classes from which a student may be excused to attend a release time course, prohibits excusing students to attend released time courses during a class that is testing subject for state or federal accountability testing, clarifies that instructors of released time courses do not need a teaching certificate or license, and makes a technical correction to clarify that students who miss school work to attend a released time course will be responsible for that missed work.

Case Law Wiley v. Franklin 468 F. Supp. 133 (1979)

The United States District Court ruled that the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment was violated by a certain Bible study course sponsored in public schools.

However, the court recognized that Released Time programs, operated under the guidelines of Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, were valid in Tennessee (Wiley, at 144). The Court held, "a program permitting the release of students from a public school during regular classroom hours to enable them to receive religious instructions of their choice from teachers other than public school teachers and at premises other than school premises, will pass Constitutional muster under both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause..." (Wiley, at 146).