LifeWise Academy Offers Off-Site Bible Instruction at Various School Districts Across Ohio - Word&Way

LifeWise Academy Offers Off-Site Bible Instruction at Various School Districts Across Ohio


An Ohio-based religious instruction program for students to be let out of school to study the Bible is being adopted by more than a quarter of public school districts in Ohio, and across more than a dozen states, but not without some resistance.

LifeWise Academy is a program that teaches the Bible to students with their parents’ permission off-campus during the school day under released time for religious instruction laws. Headquartered in Hilliard, LifeWise Academy was founded in 2018 and initially launched in two Ohio school districts in 2019.



Today, LifeWise Academy enrolls nearly 30,000 students from more than 300 schools across more than 12 states. LifeWise has a strong presence in Ohio. LifeWise will be in more than 170 Ohio school districts by next school year — more than a quarter of the state’s school districts.

“I believe it’s God’s grace,” said Joel Penton, the founder of LifeWise. “I am certain that many, many parents want Bible education for their students. … We’re under the impression that the majority of our students aren’t receiving any other type of Bible education elsewhere.”

There has been some opposition to LifeWise.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote a letter to more than 600 Ohio school districts urging them not to allow LifeWise to take place in their district.

“Per its own words, LifeWise’s goal is clear: they seek to indoctrinate and convert public school students to evangelical Christianity by convincing public school districts to partner with them in bringing LifeWise released time bible classes to public school communities,” Lawrence said.

What is LifeWise?

LifeWise, which is non-denominational, teaches the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

The classes take place during the school day, but don’t happen during a mandatory course such as math or English. Instead, they usually take place during elective courses like gym, music, or study hall.

Schools and families don’t pay for LifeWise. The money comes from individuals, churches, and businesses in the community, Penton said.

Released time religious instruction

The United States Supreme Court upheld released time laws during the 1952 Zorach v. Clauson case which permitted a school district to have students leave school for part of the day to receive religious instruction.

Released time religious instruction must meet three criteria: the courses must take place off school property, be privately funded, and students must have parental permission.

Schools that use LifeWise Academy have steadily increased since the 2019-20 school year, with a spike coming during the 2022-23 school year.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently reaffirmed the legality of LifeWise programs as long as they adhere to Ohio law in response to Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter.

“Released-time programs are not new or legally controversial in the least,” Yost wrote in his letter. “If a school simply allows students to leave, according to parents’ wishes and without public funds, the school is honoring religious liberty, not violating any rules against establishing a state religion.”


The Freedom From Religion Foundation said released time programs, like LifeWise, can lead to negative consequences for students who do not participate in the program since there is clear distinction between which students are involved in the program.

“We have received at least one complaint reporting that a school assigned non-attending students additional homework seemingly as punishment for refusing to participate in a released time program,” according to the letter.

Penton invites those who oppose LifeWise to do further research.

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

Online petitions against LifeWise have also popped up before the program comes to a school district.

Improved attendance and fewer suspensions

Schools that use LifeWise have seen improved attendance and fewer suspensions, according to a study released in the fall by Thomas P. Miller & Associates, an Indiana consulting firm.

The study showed attendance improved by nearly 7% and nearly 20 fewer students had in-school suspension after a school started implementing LifeWise Academy.

Districts that use LifeWise say they like how it promotes overall character development and peer relationships.

“It does align with our local character development programs and peer relationship programs, so they’re working in concert with each other because there’s a similar message of appropriate behaviors and expectations,” said New London Local Schools Superintendent Brad Romano.

A little more than 100 students participate in LifeWise Academy classes in New London, he said.

“When Lifewise was first introduced in our community there was a lot of positive feedback and a lot of positive support from the community,” Romano said.

When LifeWise first came to the district, he got some questions about the program from parents.

“They still may not agree with it for their own personal children or their families, but they also understand that it’s also the right of a parent to decide if they want their children involved in the program,” Romano said.

Roughly 50% of the 750 first through fifth grade students at Bryan City Elementary School in Northwest Ohio participate in LifeWise, said the school’s principal Kasey Thormeier.

“They live the values that they’re teaching and those things are seen by teachers in the classroom,” Thormeier said.

She said Bryan Elementary hasn’t experienced much opposition from folks upset about the LifeWise classes.

“We’re doing everything by the book,” Thormeier said. “We know that we’re following the law. … I’m sure there were individuals who were not thrilled about it, but none of it ever came to light like it was a big issue that we had to overcome.”


Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David Dewitt for questions: Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.