Supporters of the “moment of silence” mandate may be saying a little prayer in hopes of salvaging the now troubled law.
Earlier this month a U.S. District Court judge slapped an injunction on the law, which requires school children to have an unspecified time set aside at the start of the school day for a moment of silence. The injunction blocks the state school superintendent from enforcing the law. Federal Judge Robert Gettleman’s Nov. 15 ruling stated that the superintendent cannot punish districts that don’t pause for a moment of silence.
Prior to the ruling, school officials in Forest Park and surrounding school districts were scrambling to figure out how to implement the law.
The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was first amended in May.
The act went into effect in October after Springfield lawmakers overrode Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto.
The law was changed stating that a public school teacher “shall,” rather than “may,” observe a brief period of silence with all students.
Opponents say the law mandates school prayer while proponents say it only requires students to take a silent moment for reflection, which could include a prayer.
Lou Cavallo, superintendent of District 91, acknowledged the court ruling but said that as long as the mandate remains on the books his schools will abide by it.
“It’s still a law at this point,” Cavallo said. “Whether or not they can enforce it is a little different than whether it exists.”
Though he is opposed to the state’s intrusion on the classroom, Cavallo said Forest Park’s K-8 public schools will continue to observe a moment of silence. Largely, the superintendent said he does not want to change the rhythm of his classrooms if he can help it, and until the dispute is resolved the students will be asked to pause each morning.
“We all thought it was best to keep it in place,” Cavallo said.
For many of the same reasons, Proviso Township High School District 209 Superintendent Bob Libka said students there will also continue to observe a brief moment of silence.
“Our read on that was that it didn’t sound like a permanent resolution,” Libka said of the court’s decision.
Meanwhile, in surrounding districts, administrators said that while the debate on this issue continues there are other, perhaps more substantive discussions that fall by the wayside.
Constance Collins, superintendent of Oak Park’s elementary school District 97, said the district had not yet implemented the law and was waiting for a final decision from the state. The law, she mentioned, doesn’t specify how long a “moment” would be.
“I would think with everything that the state has to do that this would not be a priority for them,” Collins said. “So we were surprised that this was put on the plate with so much that they have to deal with.”
David Bonnette, interim superintendent for River Forest District 90, said he is no fan of the law to begin with and preferred when the state left the decision with the schools.
“Frankly, there are issues in the state that require far greater attention than this matter,” Bonnette said. “We still don’t have a signed budget bill, and it’s mid-November. Let’s turn our legislative attention to the items that are of import.”
Josh Adams contributed to this report.