- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Loudoun County, Va., has reached a temporary agreement with the student who walked out of class during the minute of silence yesterday and Monday that will allow him to sit in the principal's office during the minute.

That's the way things will stand until Friday, when the student, Jordan Kupersmith, and seven other plaintiffs ask a federal judge to halt enforcement of the law.

Jordan, 16, and his parents had warned the superintendent this summer he would walk out during the minute of silence because he doesn't think a school he's required to attend should also force him to take part in what he considers an attempt to put religion in schools.

Monday was the first day of classes in Loudoun County, and the first time most Loudoun students were subject to the state's new requirement that every public school observe a minute of silence for prayer or reflection.

Other Northern Virginia schools don't begin class until Tuesday. But Jordan's case poses the question of what further protest is possible when school districts like Fairfax County, the state's largest, open their doors.

Even though more than half of the students suing to overturn the law are in Fairfax County, school officials said they haven't heard of any plans for walkouts.

"We haven't seen any problems, and we don't anticipate any problems," said Paul Regnier, a Fairfax schools spokesman, pointing to the smooth operation of the new requirement during summer school this year.

The new law requires that students remain seated and silent during the minute, but the law doesn't say what will happen to students who don't comply.

Wayde Byard, public information officer for Loudoun schools, said school principals were only told how to announce the minute of silence to students. Discipline problems are left up to the principals, he said.

He said that of the 30,327 students in class Monday, they had just one incident reported.

Jordan's initial walkout, first reported in The Washington Post, drew no condemnation from Principal E. Wayne Griffiths at Potomac Falls High School. But when Jordan walked out of class yesterday, Mr. Griffiths called him into the office and told him he will receive detention next week for having walked out again, Jordan's father, Roy Kupersmith, said.

Mr. Byard said neither he nor Mr. Griffiths could comment on discipline in a particular student's case.

Jordan was prepared to walk out today anyway, but the school system, Attorney General Mark L. Earley's office and the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers handling the case on behalf of the students suing came to the agreement yesterday evening allowing Jordan to go to the principal's office.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said yesterday schools should allow some way for students to opt out of the silence requirement.

The part of state law that suggests schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance specifically gives students the right to remain seated and silent while other students stand and recite the pledge.

But, Mr. Willis said, sitting quietly is exactly what students are required to do during the minute of silence, so students need some other way to separate themselves from the action.

A spokesman for Mr. Earley said yesterday that the office wouldn't have a comment on the issue, pending Friday's hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

The law specifically charges the attorney general with defending it in court.

In the attorney general's most recent court filing, a footnote says schools may make allowances for students excused from the classroom for the minute of silence. And in a statement filed in court, Jo Lynne DeMary, state superintendent of public instruction, points to five examples in which individual schools and school districts allowed students to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance or opt in to religious activities.

But Mr. Kupersmith said they requested the school system excuse Jordan, and offered three alternatives, including letting him wait in the hallway until the minute was over, but school officials refused.

Mr. Kupersmith and Jordan don't blame the school system. "Schools didn't do this the legislature did this," Mr. Kupersmith said.

He said he doesn't know whether he would have also considered walking out, but he said he definitely wouldn't have "had the guts" to do it.

But, he said, he and his wife backed their son the whole way. "My son is this serious and committed, I'm not going to squash him."

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