Ohio-based program offers Bible lessons to public school students who opt in

An Ohio-based religious instruction program is bringing the Bible to public school students during school hours in what is called released time instruction.

LifeWise Academy, launched in 2018,…

An Ohio-based religious instruction program is bringing the Bible to public school students during school hours in what is called released time instruction.

LifeWise Academy, launched in 2018, says it reaches over 300 schools nationwide, delivering weekly Bible teachings to public school students as part of their school day, though classes meet off campus.

Many states allow such instruction through released-time provisions, in which public school students are released from school, with parental approval, to receive religious education during the school day.

Joel Penton, Founder of LifeWise Academy, emphasized the program’s aim to reach students who might otherwise miss out on faith-based education due to logistical constraints.

“For decades, faith-based organizations have been imparting Scripture and the value of faith with public school students before and after school,” Penton said in a press release. “But the students who most need to be reached are often missed due to logistical and scheduling challenges. 

“Operating during school hours, with the permission of both parents and school administrators, has allowed us to better integrate into the school’s culture and reach those previously left out.” 

At Etna Road Elementary in Ohio, participating students are shuttled to a nearby church for 30 minutes of prayer, music, and Bible lessons before returning to classes, while non-participants remain in the campus library with their teacher, according to NBC News

However, each LifeWise chapter tailors its approach to suit the specific needs of its school, facilitated by a franchise-style model that streamlines setup and operation.  

“Our local communities and local programs coordinate with school administrators to find a time that is not disruptive to the public-school day,” Penton said. “Zero core academic classes are missed for our program.” 

Educators and parents alike have voiced support for LifeWise, citing improvements in student mental health, academic performance, attendance and even disciplinary issues. 

Surveys show 76% of educators and 96% of parents endorsing the program’s benefits, according to LifeWise.   

“Every time my son comes home from school, he always tells me what his favorite part of the day is,” LifeWise parent Jessica Cappuzello said. “He’s in second grade now but prior to that he had always said recess or gym. 

“Ever since he started LifeWise, I kid you not, he will get off the bus and the first thing he’ll say is ‘Mom, I loved LifeWise today.”  

Opponents to the program include the anti-religion group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, which seems worried schools are eager to adopt the program. 

“Public school districts under Ohio law aren’t legally required to authorize release time for students to attend religious instruction off-campus during school hours,” FRF stated. “However, districts throughout the state have unfortunately begun approving release time for LifeWise’s bible study classes, without fully understanding constitutional concerns and how large-scale released time religious programs like LifeWise can negatively impact educational goals.” 

Penton invites anyone who opposes LifeWise to do further research. 

“Usually, it is a matter of people not knowing about the details,” Penton said, according to Ohio Capital Journal. “They hear Bible education during school hours, and they think, oh, that must be illegal.” 

In 1952, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students could leave school for part of the day, with parental consent, to receive religious instruction so long as the government didn’t promote or pay for it. 

According to the official website, LifeWise programs are funded by private donations, “at no cost to schools or participating families.”