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Senate panel OKs bill mandating moments of silence in schools

Opposed are the American Atheists and the Anti-Defamation League.

A Florida Senate bill that would ensure public school students are afforded moments of silence passed its first committee by a 6-1 vote Monday.

Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley‘s bill (SB 946) would require public school principals to compel teachers to offer time for silent reflection at the beginning of the school day.

“This bill deals with what we all deal with,” Baxley said, “the tyranny of the urgent.”

“We live frantic lives … I see it in my own grandchildren,” the Senator said, not elaborating on what that looks like.

This proposal would replace the current statute, which calls for a “brief meditation period.”

Silence would be compulsory for at least one minute but no more than two minutes.

“The Legislature finds that in the hectic society of today, too few persons are able to experience even a moment of quiet reflection before plunging headlong into the activities of daily life. Young persons are particularly affected by the absence of an opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection,” the bill contends.

As well, the bill says that each teacher “shall encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions as to the best use of this time.”

The bill makes no provision for non-parental guardians. Nor does the language contemplate the specific way a teacher “shall encourage” that discussion.

The Anti-Defamation League and Florida NOW opposed, as did the American Atheists’ Devon Graham.

Graham noted that the time felt “explicitly religious” in nature, and set abstainers up for “harassment.”

Committee division broke on partisan lines

Sen. Lori Berman, one of six Jewish children in her elementary school, noted the discomfort that could occur in mandated moments of silence. She added that school districts already had discretion to do such should they want.

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was up on the bill, meanwhile, advocating a “moment of mindfulness” for school-aged youth.

Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, questioned the bill’s provision urging parents to talk to teachers about how to best maximize the moments of silence.

Baxley said that should allow the state-mandated moment to reflect the family’s position.

Rep. Kim Daniels is carrying HB 737 in the House. It has yet to get a committee hearing.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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