Dramatic Increase in Attendance for Off-Campus Religious Instruction in Central Ohio

Religious released-time programs offering Bible-based education are showing an increase in popularity as optional classes during the school day.

Pastor Claude Davis of Whitehall’s New Life Church, who facilitates one such released time program, said that the program drastically jumped from a 18 students on the first day to 269 students in attendance last year.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1952 that public school students can be released from school in the middle of the school day to receive religious education. In 2013 an Ohio law was enacted that public schools have an option to adopt a religious release-time policy. Students are allowed to leave the building during school hours with parent or guardian consent as long as it is not during a “core curriculum subject,” no public funds or public school personnel are involved, and the provider keeps attendance, transports the students, and assumes all liability.

There are numerous organizations throughout the state that facilitate these offsite programs. One organization well known in Central Ohio is LifeWise Academy.

LifeWise Academy Facebook’s page states, “We saw over 70 kids Lifewise Academy – Olentangy OH this week in 3 different elementary schools during public school hours… Buses running every 20 minutes for 3 days to bring students off campus during one day of their week during recess and lunch.”

New Life Church has been a host facility for LifeWise Academy for two years. In 2021, the Whitehall program began with Beechwood Elementary School with students in grades two through five. Pastor Davis said that starting the second week of October they will be adding Etna Road Elementary in Whitehall to their schedule as well. They hope to be able to expand to local middle schools and high schools in the future.

“The teachers at Beechwood, most of them were very excited about the program. It’s a character development program. Character development is part of the overall school curriculum. We are coming alongside the school and their character development program. It has a positive impact on the students from that perspective,” Davis said.

Critics are worried that programs such as these are promoting one particular religion over another. Other concerns are that the children who do not elect to go will be left behind in a small classroom environment for their electives such as art or music while the children who do go are missing important class time with their peers.

“In the long run, we believe that it will reduce classroom behavior problems and enhance scholastic learning. It helps the students to be better students. We are very happy with the program getting to make a positive impact in the community,” Davis said.

“We would not be able to discuss these things with them if it weren’t for doing it right in the middle of the school day,” LifeWise Academy Program Director Kathryn Anders said.

“We’re hearing from parents across the country that want their students to have the opportunity of Bible education through released time, and we’re excited to come alongside schools and students to provide Bible-based character education,” said Joel Penton, founder & CEO of LifeWise Academy.

Although many districts in Central Ohio have some sort of religious release policy, that does not ensure there is a program actively available in the district.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]



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