The school day may start a bit different in Florida public schools after the Florida Senate voted 32-6 to pass the bill (HB 529), which was approved by the House last month in a 94-24 vote. That is of course will be the case if Governor Ron DeSantis signs the bill when it comes to his desk.
If signed into law, school principals would be required to direct first-period teachers to allow for between one to two minutes for a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day. Teachers, however, would not “make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence,” and students “may not interfere with other students’ participation.” Teachers would also encourage parents to discuss with their students the best use” of the silent time.
Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that part of the measure should remove concerns that teachers might influence how students use the silent time.
“It remains very clear in the wording of this bill that parents and guardians are the ones responsible for a discussion with their child about what’s the appropriate content of that time. We don’t want that responsibility on the teacher,” Baxley said.
Representative Fred Hawkins, from District 42 shared, “I am proud to have supported HB 529 which grants our children two minutes of silence in class each day. In a normal school day, a child has almost nonstop activities and no time to simply sit back and take a breath between a full day of learning. With the passing of this bill, we are now allowing our students the chance to take a moment to themselves and use it how they wish.”
Opponents of (HB 529) have argued that directing teachers to have a moment of silence in public schools will blur the separation between church and state.
“It would be a good thing if we could all take a moment of silence every day and reflect and meditate a little bit on things that are important to us. However, the framers of our Constitution were very careful to separate church and state,” said Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, raised a concern about children who aren’t religious potentially being made uncomfortable by other students who choose to pray during the moment of silence.
“I understand that this is a moment of silence, but I also want us all to think about what could happen in a moment of silence. Could children take out rosaries and start doing the sign of the cross and (make) other children feel uncomfortable? Could a child take out a prayer rug and start using a prayer rug?” Democrat Senator Lori Berman from Delray Beach said.
Other Democrats supported the bill, with some drawing on personal experiences.
Senator Victor Torres, Democrat from Kissimmee said “I feel that it gives the teacher and the students a chance to reflect, and whichever religion you believe in, that’s your right.”