Below is a forward I recently received about a perceived effort to eliminate the release time seminary system in an Idaho school district. The email is from a CES employee to parents of students in the school district encouraging them to oppose one of several proposed schedules currently under consideration that apparently would restructure the district’s trimester system and eliminate the class flexibility that enables the release time seminary program. It’s unclear whether preventing the Church from offering seminary during school hours was the intent of the proposed schedule at issue, but it nonetheless raises some interesting questions about the release time seminary program. What advantages does release time have over early morning seminary? Is seminary attendance or participation markedly better? Do students tend to absorb more from this system? Is it easier to maintain and oversee? Would large wards have trouble supporting their many high school-age students? And as areas which have historically had a large enough LDS population to justify a release time seminary program grow and the percentage of members in the overall community drops, is there a point at which early morning seminary simply becomes the more sensible option? What’s really at stake here? I’m curious how others see this issue because, to be quite honest, I’m kind of ambivalent about it. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing release time seminary fall by the wayside.
Speaking personally, I attended three and a half years of release time seminary and half a year of early morning, and there was a marked difference. Now I had some great release time seminary teachers who were certainly better-trained than the ward member who was called to teach my early morning class, but I probably absorbed more from that semester of getting up at 5:45am than I did in all of my other seminary classes combined. If I were to pin-point a reason, I’d say it was probably because I was more invested in it. My attendance was more consistent as there was less of a temptation to skip (I did benefit from a mom who ensured I got there in the morning though). I participated a lot more (for me it was harder to blow off a ward member than some seminary teacher). It also just felt more spiritual. I’ve thought a lot about why that is and think it could be for a number of reasons. First, it was first thing in the morning before my mind drifted on to the million other distractions that make up high school. Second, it was at our chapel, which just felt more like Church than the seminary building a stone’s throw from school. Third, the class was smaller and more intimate. I knew the teacher and kids who attended well and worshiped with them week in and week out. I think the end result was an environment where I felt more spiritually stimulated. Had you asked me at the time, I would have said I preferred release time seminary, but this was because it demanded so much less from me. I didn’t have to wake up in the morning. I didn’t know those I attended with as well and could disappear into the crowd more easily. By the time I usually had seminary, I was so wrapped up in what was going on at school that day that it was a challenge to jump into the scriptures (and then head right back to school). Ultimately, instead of an hour or so of spiritual study, I think I ended up seeing it more as a gimmie period that was just a break from school.
Which brings me back to the letter. It seems to see the prospect of losing the fight in this Idaho school district as a slippery slope that could lead to the elimination of release time everywhere. Given my experience at seminary, I guess I have a hard time not saying “so what?” Am I alone here?
As many of you know the State of Idaho Board of Education has increased some of the requirements needed for graduation effective 2009-2010 school year for the class of 2013. As a result of this decision District 91 feels it necessary to modify the school schedule for the students in order to allow them more class time to master the subjects and be prepared to move on to higher education. A committee was formed called the ‘steering committee’ to study various schedules and make a proposal to the District Board of Education in January 2009 for their vote. Five different versions were proposed but emphasis has been placed, by the committee, on one which would eliminate Released Time Seminary beginning this upcoming school year FOR ALL GRADES 9-12! The other entails retaining trimesters at the high school and modifying the schedule at the Jr. High Schools in order to better align those schedules.
Aside from informing you of these changes the purpose of this e-mail is to invite you to do a few things:
1) Will you please go to the district website http://www.d91.k12.id.us/ and study the issues at hand regarding “high school re-vision” including reading the meeting notes? [Note: The proposed school schedules at issue can be found here]
2) If you see the need to preserve Released Time Seminary as it currently exists as part of the daily school schedule, will you please plan to attend, with your 9-12 grade student(s), at least one of the High School Graduation Requirements Public Meetings listed on that home page, preferably at the meeting held at [Name of School]? (see further instructions below)
3) If you see the need to preserve Released Time Seminary as it currently exists as part of the daily school schedule will you please e-mail EACH of our District 91 board members respectfully stating your desires and any accompanying concerns? On the SUBJECT line please type: “I support Schedule C” in case they are unable to read and respond to the entire message?
Instructions for those who plan to attend:
1) Please be respectful during the entirety of the meeting by being punctual and not leaving early. While there please refrain from any outbursts of ANY kind ie. Applause, shouting or murmuring approval or dissent.
2) While there is no need to wear Sunday best please dress in nice casual clothes.
3) There will likely be members of the media present. Please feel free to answer their questions but make it very clear to them that you are in no way a spokesperson for the Church.
The e-mail addresses of the Board Members for District 91 are:
Remember to type “I support Schedule C” in the subject line!
Finally, we have been informed that those opposing a schedule which will allow released time seminary are rallying forces to attend the meetings as well. If released time seminary ever done away with it will be EXTREMELY difficult, if not impossible, to ever get back. Elder Kim Clark, our Area Authority and the Stake Presidents in our area are concerned that passing such a change could stimulate mass changes in other areas which could eliminate or alter released time as we know it.
The meetings are as follows: (Your support at [ Name of School ] is encouraged, at any others would be welcome also)
December 1, at Clair E. Gale Jr. High at 7p
December 2, at Eagle Rock Jr. High at 7p
December 4, at Taylorview Jr. High at 7p
Thank you for your support for your students. If you have any questions feel free to contact me via any of the following means: [ Contact Information ].
Seminaries & Institutes
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
P.S. As an aside, I would personally like you to know that my involvement in rallying support is by direction of our local Priesthood leaders and is in no way self-serving. Though my assignment could be modified or changed my employment is not at risk in any way regardless of the outcome. I do know the value and influence of the Released Time program and I personally feel a need to put forth every effort to maintain it; but in encouraging you I am acting out of obedience to the voice of our Area Authority, Elder Clark as well as our local Stake and Ward leaders.