Oklahoma students start school year with moment of silence
By The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY Five children folded their hands to pray, others rested their heads on their desks and a few stared silently out the window for 60 seconds.
Still, the morning moment of silence on Aug. 14 in this sixth-grade class wasn't completely quiet.
One boy was digging through his backpack. Another, late for school, burst into the room just after the 60 seconds began.
A bill passed by the Legislature last session and signed into law in May requires public schools to have a moment of silence each day. Lawmakers say it's a time for reflection and prayer if desired.
A handful of students at Northeast Academy in central Oklahoma City said they used their minute to think of the Sept. 11 attacks and even the bombing of the federal building seven years ago.
"I think of how they suffered and all the families suffered, and how the people on the planes had nothing to do with it," said 11-year-old Carlos Nazarao. "I think it's a good thing, that we should pray while we are at school."
Most Oklahoma public schools resumed classes last week. The school year began Aug. 13 at Northeast Academy.
Claudia Munoz, 13, plans to often use her moment of silence to think of terrorist victims.
"I felt like crying," said Munoz, who folded her hands on her desk, closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. "I was also remembering what happened in Oklahoma."
Students said it might be more difficult later in the year for everyone to stay quiet during the daily ritual.
"But I think they are old enough to be respectful," said Munoz, sitting in one of about 25 desks arranged in rows on a freshly polished hardwood floor.
In many school districts throughout the state, principals planned to hold the moment of silence after the morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jan Borelli, principal for Northeast Academy, used chiming bells over the intercom system to get students' attention. She talked about schedule changes and then told them the rules for the silent moment.
"Your moment of silence does not mean you have to be praying," she said. "What you do is your preference."
Later, Borelli said she expects the students will remain respectful and stay silent throughout the year.
"It's an easy routine," she said. "It's a really great focus."
Some have criticized the new law as a way for advocates of school prayer to get around the Supreme Court ruling against mandatory prayer at school. But supporters said the measure does not compel students to do anything but be silent.
The law is modeled after one in Virginia, which was upheld by an appeals court last year. The Supreme Court refused to review that decision.
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