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Academic exemptions struck from proposal for religious education during school

By Kirsten Adair, IPB News | Published on in Education, Faith and Religion, Government, Politics
Students are already allowed to leave school for religious instruction. But the proposal mandates, rather than encourages, schools to work with organizations that offer that instruction. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

A proposal passed by a Senate committee would require schools to release students for faith-based instruction if requested regardless of the student’s academics. Lawmakers removed exceptions for students who are habitually truant or struggling academically.

Students are already allowed to leave school for religious instruction. But HB 1137 mandates, rather than encourages, schools work with organizations that offer that instruction.

Lawmakers in the House added exceptions to the bill meant to keep some students from falling further behind by leaving school during instruction time.

After hearing testimony, lawmakers in the Senate voted to remove those exceptions.

Bethany Podell, a former elementary school teacher who now teaches religious instruction, said faith-based education can be particularly helpful for struggling students.

“I saw the understanding and the need for opportunities to grow and support the whole child as they grow into citizens who will thrive and give back,” she said.

READ MORE: Lawmakers consider bill to allows religious education during school hours

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Lisa Tanselle is general counsel at the Indiana School Boards Association. She said the ISBA opposes the amendment and the overall bill because it is a mandate that hinders local school corporation’s decision-making about when and in what circumstances to release students.

“We support religious instruction, but requiring school officials to allow the release of students for up to 120 minutes per week takes away from the academic mission of the school corporation,” Tanselle said.

She added school corporations are concerned students’ academics could suffer if schools are mandated to let kids leave during instruction time.

“They were concerned about the disruption, the disruption of having students removed for an hour at various times throughout the day,” she said.

Tanselle said, in one case, a religious education entity requested that a school allow students to leave for religious instruction during library time. The school uses library time to sharpen students’ literacy skills, so the request was denied.

She said school corporations are concerned they won’t be able to refuse those requests if the bill becomes law.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.