- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Some Fairfax County [Va.] School Board members want to start their meetings with a moment of silence for reflection, meditation or prayer in hopes of inspiring county schools to follow suit and observe it, as mandated by law.

"I have been in schools that do not regularly enforce the moment. The principal would say they got too busy or something like that," said Rita Thompson, member at-large.

She said the board should serve as a role model for the children because schools do not regularly implement the moment of silence mandated by law two years ago.

Mrs. Thompson said the observance, based on the prototype now used for schools, would be "just a minute when some [board members] will think of what to say during the meeting and others will come to peace with themselves and acknowledge their Creator."

The issue will come up for discussion at the board's July 11 meeting, and Mrs. Thompson said she expects the board to resolve to follow the law.

However, some board members, while not directly opposing the move, aren't enthusiastic about the moment of silence, which faced public opposition when it was implemented in schools.

School Board Chairman Stuart Gibson said a moment of silence before meetings is "unnecessary."

All schools, he said, currently observe the moment as mandated by law.

He has not decided how to vote on the issue, but he does not foresee any major opposition to it from the board or the rest of the school community who attend the meetings.

The county PTA opposed the moment of silence when it was mandated in schools. Mitch Luxenburg, a parent and former president of the group, said he does not see why board members must observe a moment of silence at meetings.

"I think it will ultimately detract from the meetings. I am not convinced it provides any benefits," he said.

Supporters of the move, like Mychele Brickner, board member at-large, said there shouldn't be any opposition to the moment of silence because people could use the time to do anything they want, not just pray.

"It would be a good idea to standardize the moment of silence at board meetings. I think we need to be a model for students," she said.

"Everyone at board meetings is an adult and understands a moment of silence. There is no strong feeling on the board not to do it," said board member Jane Strauss, Dranesville.

The Fairfax County School Board says the Pledge of Allegiance before every meeting, as do most school boards in the region and throughout the country. Members in Arlington and Alexandria start their meetings by reciting the pledge. In Prince George's, board members begin each meeting with a prayer followed by the pledge. In the District and in Montgomery County, meetings begin with a roll call.

In Virginia, board members in 1996 started having an invocation, a minute during which a member or members of the clergy would deliver a "generic, inclusive" invocation before the pledge, said state schools spokesman Charles Pyle. In 1998, the board changed it to a silent invocation and since the start of this year, the silent invocation has been changed to a moment of silence, Mr. Pyle said.

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