Release-time seminary grapples with transition


    By Stephanie Blackner

    Many release-time seminary programs encounter obstacles before students even have a chance to walk across the street.

    “It”s a difficult program to get going,” said Richard Wells, stake president of the Tacoma South Stake in Tacoma, Wash. “We have been trying for years to get it implemented here, but it just hasn”t worked out.”

    Ever since the stake had more than 125 Latter-day Saint students at Curtis High School, Wells has been trying to switch from early morning to release-time seminary.

    The area first had to meet the requirement of 150 students to get a full-time teacher. It then got the approval of the school board and school administration.

    Because of the ease with which the program was moving forward, Wells hoped that there would be few complications.

    “Our problem is the location,” Wells said. “The students have to be able to walk across the street and get back in time to school so they are not late. We don”t have a place to meet.”

    A few years ago the stake was on the verge of purchasing a home close by, but found that neighborhood covenants restricted the use of the home for a class.

    Other areas across the country have encountered problems with both local and state laws limiting release-time seminary.

    In the early 1980s, California passed a law that ended release-time programs across the state, said Robb Jones, director of seminary training at BYU. Early morning seminary has been their number one option ever since.

    “Schools are concerned with students leaving campus for any reason,” said Gary Blackner, former area director for the Church Educational System in northern California. “Once they have them on campus, they want to keep them there.”

    Gaining the support of students and parents, making the seminary area safe and the redefining of school boundaries are other potential obstacles for a new release-time seminary program.

    However, “it”s worth it,” Wells said. “We do fine with early morning, but you generally get better results with release-time.”

    Release-time programs are taught by trained teachers who are required to complete an accredited bachelor”s degree and seminary preservice training and be interviewed and approved by a general authority.

    “Thousands complete the program each year,” Jones said. “Unfortunately only about 50 or 60 are hired, but they are the very best.”

    So, like Tacoma South, stakes across the country continue to wait and work for the right moment to implement release-time seminary.

    “I look for a house to open every time I drive past the high school,” Wells said. “Hopefully we can get one soon.”

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