September 8, 2021
Astatula Elementary School in Central Florida’s Lake County already had a daily moment of silence in place long before a new law demanded it.
Prior to the current school year, Astatula students would stand for the daily Pledge of Allegiance, and remain standing for another 10 to 15 seconds for a moment of silence.
But now, public schools across Florida are under a new requirement to hold a daily moment of silence for at least a whole minute and up to two minutes, according to a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June. How that plays out could mean less instruction time for teachers, improved mental health for students or maybe just a waste of time.
The new school year is only about a month in, and schools are still experimenting with how the moment of silence will be incorporated into daily school life.
Will more schools choose one minute or the full two minutes? Does the moment of silence seem especially lengthy? How will students benefit?
Anne Leatherbarrow, a staff member at Apopka Middle School in Orange County — she is retiring Wednesday– told the Phoenix that the school uses the one minute of silence after the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We love it,” she said.
The seemingly simple law was actually a contentious topic during the 2021 legislative session, with critics saying it took away from classroom instruction or was a sneaky way to put prayer back into schools. In fact, some members of atheist organizations spoke out against the measure during the 2021 legislative session.
But legislation pursued in the session said it was a way for students to get “even a moment of quiet reflection” and that, “young persons are particularly affected by the absence of an opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection,” according to language in the bill.
In addition: “The Legislature finds that our youth, and society as a whole, would be well served if students in the public schools were afforded a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation into law at the Shul of Bal Harbour, a synagogue in Miami-Dade County, promoting the idea of protecting religious freedom. The law involves only public schools.
“The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful – I’m sorry but our founding fathers did not believe that,” DeSantis said. “So we have an opportunity here to protect the religious freedom of everybody going to school, K-12, in the state of Florida.”
The law requires at least one minute devoted for a moment of silence and not exceeding more than two minutes. That means a moment of silence every school day, roughly 180 days in the academic year.
In Leon County’s school district, elementary school kids do the moment of silence in the morning, according to Chris Petley, a communications staffer with the Leon district.
Leon middle and high schools use the moment of silence during homeroom, which for some schools is during third period. The Phoenix asked Petley how it’s possible to do the moment of silence during third period when the law says that the first period teacher should initiate the moment of silence. The Phoenix is awaiting a response.
Petley told the Phoenix that he was not aware of any issues following the implementation of the new moment of silence law. But if there are issues or problems, the district would contact the principal.
“Schools were provided training over the summer and additional communication once students were back on campus,” Petley said in an email. “If we are made aware of the schools or classrooms that are not providing adequate time we will work with them on ensuring compliance.”
The new law was designed to give kids time to reflect in schools, and a teacher may not instruct or recommend how the time is spent on a moment of silence. Instead, the teacher “shall encourage parents or guardians to discuss the moment of silence with their children and to make suggestions as to the best use of this time.”
Lare Allen, the president of the Osceola County Education Association, told the Phoenix that the moment of silence is not the “magic pill” for student stress.
“Not speaking as a president, just speaking as an individual… I think it’s great that we have time to reflect and prepare. Is that something we need to put that into law? No, I don’t think so,” Allen said.
“I think it could be beneficial, but at the same time…the teacher can’t say what this moment of silence is for. I think it would be better if we taught them relaxation techniques for the test takers that have test anxiety. Maybe it would be good if we set aside some time for conflict resolution and de-escalating situations so we know how to get along better with each other better.”
The new law also expects the “first-period classroom teacher” to initiate the moment of silence, meaning that a first-period teacher could potentially lose 180 to 360 minutes during a school year in total.
Allen said that schools would likely hold the moment of silence during the morning announcements to ensure that a teacher does not lose instruction time.
The Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers, covers state government and politics through a mix of in-depth stories, briefs, and social media updates on the latest events, editorial cartoons, and progressive commentary. The Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers.