A mandate from state lawmakers to provide students with a moment of silence was intended, according to the recently approved legislation, to be a time for “silent reflection and student prayer.” For freshman Dolores Stokes, the moment was a chance to think about what she would buy in the cafeteria.
“I was thinking about what I’m going to eat for lunch,” Stokes, a student at the Proviso Math and Science Academy said. “What is the point of this?”
Her rhetorical question is one that educators and students alike are asking now that they have no choice but to take time from their day and sit quietly. The mandate was handed down Oct. 11 as an amendment to an existing law that allowed teachers to offer a moment of silence in their classroom, but did not require it.
Stokes, who spoke vehemently against the mandate, criticized lawmakers for slipping religion into her classroom and pandering to special interests. She also said legislators give students too much credit if they think the time will be used constructively.
“Everybody was laughing through it,” Patty Graf, another freshman at PMSA said.
When her teacher introduced the moment of silence last week, Graf said her first thought was that a disaster had struck. She realizes now that she misunderstood, but is no more in favor of the measure in part because it carries a mournful connotation, she said.
“I equate a moment of silence to a tragedy or something bad that has affected the whole world,” Graf said.
Principal Ed Moyer said he’s heard very little from teachers, students or parents in the way of concern over the legislation, but he has his own qualms. In instructing teachers on how to implement the moment of silence, Moyer said he handed a copy of the law to each faculty member and will leave it up to them as to how long the moment should last.
“Personally, I have a lot of trouble with it,” Moyer said. “I find no purpose for it and think it steps over a line on the separation of church and state.”
In Forest Park’s K-8 school district, Superintendent Lou Cavallo described the mandate as simply “unneeded.” That said, he has asked teachers to make the most of it and provide loose guidelines to elementary students who may not grasp the concepts behind the legislation. Being a good friend, following instructions and making improvements from the previous day are some of the topics offered to help frame the moment of silence in District 91.
“We don’t say anything about this being prayer time,” Theresa Giglio, an administrative assistant at Grant-White Elementary, said.
For more than 20 years Giglio has staged a sort of radio program in reading the morning announcements at Grant-White over the public address system, usually with a couple student helpers. Now, 30 seconds of silence are tacked on to the end and thus far, people are pleased.
“There’s almost a calming effect on the children,” Giglio said. “It creates somewhat of a serene moment that gets them off to a wonderful start.”
Cavallo said it’s unlikely students in the district will revolt or otherwise refuse to participate in the moment of silence. This particular mandate won’t infringe upon instructional time either, Cavallo said, but if lawmakers continue to have their ears bent by special interests it could become a problem.
“The precedent this sets does concern me,” Cavallo said.
At Field-Stevenson Elementary, Principal Bob Giovannoni sent a letter to parents informing them of the mandate. He’s heard nothing in the way of concern about how the time might be spent and said in all likelihood the controversy will fizzle.
“As long as there are math tests there will be prayer in school,” Giovannoni quipped.