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Spiritual Education and "Release-Time" in Public Schools is Promoted in North Carolina
Pastor proposes classes for spiritual education
Plan would incorporate 'released-time program'
By Theo Helm, journalnow.com (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), November 20, 2004
The Rev. Seth O. Lartey, the pastor of Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, wants to take spiritual education to as many public-school students as possible.
Under his plan, church volunteers would pick up students from schools, take them to classes, and then return them to school. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools would not have any involvement other than allowing students to attend the classes.
"I think it's the most equitable way to provide a balanced education," Lartey said.
Such programs are known as "released-time programs." Released time is the time when public schools excuse students from classes and allow them to attend religious classes.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such programs constitutional in 1952 in Zorach vs. Clauson, which reviewed a released-time program in New York.
Generally speaking, the classes can't be held on school property, schools can't spend any money on the classes, and school officials can't promote the classes.
Many states have enacted statutes establishing a policy on released time. North Carolina has not.
New York, for example, sets a statewide schedule for released time. Religious instruction is held every Wednesday with a few exceptions.
Lartey called released time "one of the most interestingly held secrets."
He heard about the released-time program about five years ago at a council of churches in Cleveland.
Superintendent Don Martin and Doug Punger, an attorney for the school system, said that released-time programs are more common in other areas of the country, especially areas with large Catholic populations.
Lartey and Goler Memorial did a similar program with Kennedy Learning Center a few years ago, but now he wants to expand it to five churches that would each be matched up with a school.
He held an informational session about it last weekend which he said drew about 50 people. Goler Memorial and Kennedy again will be partners, and Lartey said he would decide the other four matches by the end of the month.
Lartey envisions the program as working the same way it did at Kennedy. The church took about 35 students during the last class period every Friday.
Students were given a Bible story to read on the way to the church, then they divided into two groups according to gender and discussed the story. The lessons were nondenominational, Lartey said.
For example, Lartey said, students might read the Biblical story about how Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. Then they would learn about the importance of forgiveness over retaliation.
"The next step is to write out your goals for the week," Lartey said. "They're planting a seed of purpose in their minds."
Education and athletics already take care of the mind and body, he said. "What's happening to the soul?" he asked.
Colette Love was the principal of Kennedy at the time and now is an assistant superintendent with Des Moines Public Schools in Iowa. She praised the program.
"(Students) loved going. They were more conscientious in their work," Love said. "We saw a change in their attitudes, their grades and obviously in their behavior."
Lartey said that taking students out of school doesn't detract from their education.
"You are better able to learn and retain if you have a purpose for what you're doing," he said. "If you have a guy in the classroom who doesn't have a clue, you could teach him calculus all day and you're wasting his time and your time."
Theo Helm can be reached at 727-7481 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Zorach v. Clauson
Full Supreme Court opinion on released-time programs
McCollum v Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948)