A landmark bill that will mandate that all K-12 public school classrooms in Florida begin each day with a moment of silence, is currently making its way to the desk of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Proponents of the bill known as HB 529, hope it will be signed into law as early as next week. After months of discussion, the bill passed both House and Senate committees with overwhelming bipartisan support.
“The legislature finds that in today’s hectic society too few persons are able to experience even a moment of quiet reflection before plunging headlong into the activities of daily life,” the bill reads. “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.”
When the bill takes effect on July 1, 2021, Florida will become the fifteenth U.S. state to mandate a moment of silence in its public school classrooms. “[A moment of silence] gives the teacher and the students a chance to reflect, and whichever religion you believe in, that’s your right,” said Senator Victor Torres, Democrat of Kissimmee who has positive memories of the moment of silence from when he attended NYC public school as a child.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman Oirechman, director of Chabad of Tallahassee, who has been lobbying for HB 529 since the deadly synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway in April 2019, says the benefits reach beyond school, into the parent-child relationship. “The bill stipulates that parents or guardians are the ones who should discuss with their child what to reflect on during the moment of silence. This encourages parents to discuss their belief system and values with their children, instilling morals they are not receiving from social media, or pop culture,” he says.
At a committee meeting debating HB 529, the bill’s House sponsor, Representative Randy Fine, Republican of Palm Bay, cited the Parkland school shooting when he discussed the social pressures and mental health effects children experience. He said that the moment of silence gives children, who are so often overwhelmed, a chance to find peace. “It doesn’t cost anything. It addresses a problem in a small way that our children are having today in our society. It doesn’t have any downside,” Fine said in an interview. “Why wouldn’t we do it?”
Representative Fine, who is Jewish, stressed that the bill is not a religious mandate, contrary to the contention of some of its opponents. Though HB 529 amends Florida law to mandate rather than permit a moment of silence in public schools, it also strikes language permitting a short period for “silent prayer” from the law. The bill also expressly prohibits teachers or fellow students from interfering with the subject of a student’s reflection during the moment of silence, which is mandated to last at least one minute, but not more than two.
The website of “moment of silence” advocates Rabbi Abraham and Shira Frank, MomentOfSilence.info, shares notes from school children who reflected on feeling calmer when their school days begin with a moment of silence. Seven-year-old Halle says she uses the time to think about herself and her family. Frank says, “It makes me feel peaceful as a lake.” Kindergartner Tyriq says, “A moment of silence means I can think of the people in Trinidad who don’t have shoes and clothes.”