Questions on Release Time Policy III - Draft Policy for Dec 4

The following is the draft “Released Time” policy, with questions interspersed. The policy language is in black text and the questions are in blue text. I will post answers in green text as soon as they are given.

* A new version of this policy was sent to Board members on Tuesday, December 10th – the day before the scheduled vote. We are told that this version will replace the version that was attached to the agenda and discussed in last week’s meeting. (That language has been added here, in red.) I don’t recall that any Board member requested this addition during the meeting. However, the addition that was specifically requested, and to which I heard no opposition, was a definition of “core curriculum subject courses.”

When there are more questions than answers, is it responsible to move forward?

* It should be noted that none of these answers has come directly from requests for information from the administration, with the exception of the pilot program agreement, which required two requests and was sent to Board members. A few of these answers came from a phone call with Deputy Law Director Gary Dupler and the rest were the result of questions asked during the December 4th Board of Education meeting.


“Released time” or “released time course” is “a period of time during which a student is excused from school to attend a course in religious moral instruction taught by an independent entity off school property.” ¹

The Knox County Board of Education authorizes a student to be excused from school to attend a released time course in religious instruction, provided that each of the following applies:

  1. The student’s parent or guardian gives written consent prior to course participation;
  • How do students find out about available programs?

  • How are consent forms distributed/collected?
    • Is this an additional task for classroom teachers?
      • Depending on the size of the school, it could fall to a teacher, an administrator, or it could be handled by the sponsoring entity.
    • Is this an additional task for school office staff?
      • It is possible that this will be additional work for the school office staff.
    • Who tracks whether the information is provided to all students?

  • Who handles questions/complaints regarding consent forms and/or participation?
    • Principals are likely to be on the front line, regarding complaints. How they would be handled after that is unknown.
  • How much time has been spent at Sterchi Elementary, responding to questions/concerns about release time, since the beginning of the pilot?
    • If this was not tracked as part of the pilot, why was it not tracked?
  1. The sponsoring entity maintains attendance records and makes them available to the individual school the student attends;
  • How are these made available?
    • Will the same format be required at all schools?
    • Will all entities be required to use the same format?
      • It is possible that each sponsoring entity would report in their own format.
  • Who is responsible for tracking/accounting for these?
    • A procedure will have to be developed.

  • When will these be made available?
    • If a student leaves class to attend but does not board the bus, how soon will the school be informed?
    • How much additional school staff time could this consume?
      • This is unknown, as data from the pilot has not been collected and/or analyzed.


  1. The course occurs off school property and transportation to and from the place of instruction, including transportation for students with disabilities, is the complete responsibility of the sponsoring entity, parent, guardian, or student;
  • If students with disabilities require a teacher or assistant to accompany them to class, what provisions are made to have the same available during release time?
    • It is assumed that the sponsoring entity will have to provide appropriate assistance. How this will be done is unknown. 
  • If students have toileting accommodations or medical needs that require the presence of a school nurse, what provisions are required of the release time entity?
    • It is possible that the sponsoring entity could compensate a school nurse to travel with the student, but would also depend on the nurse’s other responsibilities.
  • What safety protocols are required of the sponsoring entity?
    •  None. This is entirely up to the sponsoring entity. 
      • What are the requirements for safety inspections for student transportation?
        • None
      • What are the requirements for insurance?
        • None.
      • What are the requirements for drivers?
        • None.
      • What are the requirements for safety drills for the sponsoring entity?  
        • None.
      • Will their response to an emergency mirror the responses students have practiced in their usual classrooms?
        • We have no idea. That is up to the sponsoring entity.

      • What are the reporting/response requirements for the sponsoring entity if a student makes a threat against a school, a student, or him/herself?
        • We don’t know that there are any requirements, as the students would not be participating in a school-sanctioned event.


  1. The sponsoring entity makes provisions for and assumes liability for any and all students while under the control of the sponsoring entity;
  • What checks ensure the sponsoring entity is appropriately insured for such liability?
    • None.
      This is completely up to the sponsoring entity.
      There are no requirements that they be insured at all.


  1. No public funds are expended and no Knox County Schools personnel are involved in providing the religious instruction; and
  • Every minute that a school staff member expends is a cost to taxpayers.
    Therefore, how will this cost in time be tracked and determined to be insignificant?
    • How will students be dismissed from class and accounted for, without expending any teacher time/cost?
    • How will students return to school and be accounted for without expending any teacher time/cost?
    • How will make-up work be given and graded without expending any additional teacher time/cost?


  1. The student assumes responsibility for any missed schoolwork. A teacher is not required to re-teach material missed due to a released time course.
  • How does a student “assume responsibility” for make-up work in a participation/performance course?
    • While state board policy notes that parents are responsible for make-up work in elementary school, I would like to hear how this could be possible in art and music classes, without re-teaching.
    • Since we know that there is no way to make up this time in an arts course and we know that missing students impact all students in the course, please explain how students will be able to make up work without the teacher either re-teaching or otherwise significantly adjusting the scheduled course content.
  • How was course content made up during the pilot?
    • Teachers report that they were told not to teach during that time and planned material was taught the next time the class met.
    • The Board has been told that additional information will be available prior to the December 11 meeting.

    • How was this tracked?
    • If it was not tracked during the pilot, why not?
  • How successful were students in mastering material in the classes they missed?
    • Students were far behind their peers in classes that continued, as scheduled, according to teacher records.
    • How was this measured?
      • By the content covered and not covered.

    • If it was not measured during the pilot, why not?

While in attendance in a released time course in religious instruction, a student shall not be considered absent from school. No student may be released from a core curriculum subject course to attend a religious instruction course.

  • What is considered a “core curriculum subject course”?
    (I requested a list of “core curriculum courses,” and a list of courses that are not “core courses,” from KCS administration and the law department twice.)
    • According to the State Board of Education, it depends.
      (The state has no specific definition for this term. )
      “We don’t define core subjects from the State Board, but you could as an LEA.”  

      “For elementary and middle school, you would likely want this to include the tested subjects in each grade, as well as any legal requirements like those around physical education/activity.  In high school, we have the graduation requirements listed in policy 2.103, which you could consider core subjects.  There are also general legal requirements, like that all students must have computer science education at some point in grades K-12.” 

    • The closest we can get to any kind of list is in the guidelines established for No Child Left Behind which said this:
      “The core academic subject areas are defined as English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry, earth science, physics and physical science), foreign languages (French, German, Latin and Spanish), civics and government, economics, arts (visual arts and music), history and geography and all courses that may be offered either as an elective or as a substitute for a core academic course. 
      20 U.S.C. § 7801(11); Tennessee NCLB Plan, pp. 1 and 17 (Appendix D).”

    • In other words, until we define “core subjects,” it means nothing.
  • While a student is not considered “absent from school,” are principals and/or teachers to determine whether students are considered absent from an individual class?
    From the State Board Attendance Policy:

“If a student misses a class or day of school because of the observance of a day set aside as sacred by a recognized religious denomination of which the student is a member or adherent, where such religion calls for special observances of such a day, then the student’s absence shall be an excused absence and the student shall be afforded the opportunity to complete all assignments missed without imposition of any penalty because of the absence.”

  • Could absences from performance-based classes cause a student to fail?

  • The State Board Attendance Policy states:

“The principal may limit the number and duration of non-school-sponsored extracurricular activities for which excused absences may be granted to a student during the school year.” and that
“The principal shall excuse no more than ten (10) absences each school year for students participating in non-school-sponsored extracurricular activities.”

  • Could release time absences accrue in a way that could keep an athlete or scholar from attending a competitive tournament or other scholastic events?

  • What adjustments will be made regarding teacher evaluations?
    • Deputy Law Director, Gary Dupler, stated that he assumed that principals and other evaluators would schedule evaluations so that they do not fall at a time when any “Released Time” programs are happening.

      • Will teachers be able to file an evaluation grievance if they are unable to complete their evaluation under the portfolio model, due to student absences?
      • Will teachers be able to file an evaluation grievance if their class is absent on the day of an evaluation observation?



Released time courses shall only occur at a maximum frequency of once per month. The head principal shall determine the classes from which students are able to attend released time courses, provided the principal is able to account for such courses in the school day without disturbing core curriculum subject courses (see above).

  • Who initially accepts/approves the release time course for a school?
    • The school principal?
    • The Board?
    • An administrator in Central Office?
      • The Superintendent will likely approve programs at the district level.
      • It will then be up to principals to figure out how to work it into their school day
      • OR
      • It will be up to principals to tell program sponsors that they will not fit into the school day. (Yes, we are heaping this onto the backs of principals.) 

  • How much additional administrative time could be required for approving/denying multiple release time courses and for determining scheduling possibilities for each course and in each school?
    • There is currently no way to know. It could be significant.

  • What is meant by, “without disturbing core curriculum subject courses”?
    • How is “disturbed” defined?
    • Who determines how much disruption equals being “disturbed”?
  • Are courses not “disturbed” every time a large number of students are released?

If more than one entity is providing a release time course at a school, parents will have a choice between courses and the courses will all occur at the same time.

Proposed entities requesting to provide a religious moral instruction course shall provide the Director of Schools with documentation of liability insurance and TBI/FBI fingerprint or equivalent background checks with no indications on it performed on entity individuals who will have student contact.


Knox County Schools, individual schools, the Knox County Board of Education, individual Board Members, and school district employees are not liable in damages in a civil action for any injury allegedly arising during a student’s transportation to or from a place of instruction when private transportation is used under a released time policy, or any injury allegedly arising during the time spent at the released time policy place of instruction.

  • What criminal liability is possible?
    • Criminal liability is individual and requires intent. Therefore, only civil liability is a consideration.
  • Is it possible for the sponsoring entity to use some form of public transportation?
  • What if a student is released from class, but never boards the bus?
    • Who is liable if the student leaves campus, rather than boarding the bus?
    • Who is liable if the student is injured while boarding the bus?
    • Where is the demarcation point between the school and the sponsoring entity?
      • We don’t know. It is possible that the demarcation point could be different for every school and that the procedures for tracking students may be different from school to school and between sponsoring entities.


All releases will have the following language: “I understand that I am waiving any right or privilege I may have to hold the school (name of individual school), Knox County Schools (KCS), the Knox County Board of Education (KCBOE), any and all employees of the school and KCS and KCBOE, and/or the State of Tennessee liable for my child participating in the released time course.” ²

In addition to the above-mentioned disclaimer, the Knox County Schools standard advertising disclaimer shall also be used. Said disclaimer is: “The Knox County Board of Education and the Knox County Schools do not sponsor or endorse this advertisement or solicitation.” ³

This policy shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the principle of equal access. This policy is not intended and shall not be implemented or construed in any way, to affiliate Knox County Schools with, nor express the district’s preference for, any faith or religious denomination.

  • What languages will this disclaimer be translated into?
    • There is an assumption that each school will have to request disclaimers to be provided in the languages their own students may need. Who will be responsible for this is unknown.

    • Will information be available in all student languages?
    • Will interpreters be required to be provided for ELL students?
    • Will Knox County Schools interpreters be used for reading and/or translating materials for parents?
      • This would be up to the sponsoring entity. 
      • They may or may not provide instruction in the languages necessary to adequately serve all students.

    • How will translations be made available to parents?
      • A procedure will have to be developed.

    • What checks will be in place to be sure that all parents understand that these programs are not affiliated with or endorsed by Knox County Schools?
      • None. 
        That will be the responsibility of the individual parents.
    • When a principal (or another person) determines that a program will be accepted by the school or by multiple schools, how can we ensure that this is not perceived as an endorsement?
    • How can we ensure that parents know that KCS has not vetted these programs in any way?


Legal References:

¹ T.C.A. § 49-2-130.

² T.C.A. § 49-2-130(d).

³ Cross reference Board Policy C-180


  • What information has been distributed to teachers and administrators regarding the released time pilot and/or the draft policy regarding released time?
    • None
  • Has the Collaborative Conferencing Team been given an opportunity to discuss the potential issues regarding staff working conditions related to the passage of this policy?
    • No.
  • What data was planned to be collected at the beginning of this pilot?
    • Was all planned data collected?
    • What data has been collected?
    • If NO data was collected, please explain how this pilot was entered with a good faith effort to determine its impact on our students, our schools, and/or our instruction.

  • Please provide the Board with a copy of any/all agreements entered into with the Elgin Foundation and/or the Church at Sterchi Hills prior to beginning this pilot.


  • Please provide to the Board, any conditions of the pilot that did not meet the requirements of the current law and/or State Board of Education policy?
    • How will these be changed in future programs?

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