Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Gov. Rick Scott signs school prayer bill

TALLAHASSEE — The burden is now on school districts to decide whether to allow students to pray or deliver "inspirational messages" during public events.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday a controversial proposal authorizing school prayer.

Critics who had lobbied the governor to veto SB 98 immediately refocused their attention on school boards, warning that implementing the policy would guarantee a court battle.

The law, effective July 1, allows school districts to create policies that authorize students to deliver "inspirational messages" at public events.

Teachers and employees still cannot.

"Legislators are clearly inviting Florida school boards to plunge into a legal swamp," said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "I hope school board members turn down the invitation. It's wrong to subject students to coercive prayer and proselytizing."

All along Scott has said that he supports prayer, so his decision to sign the bill wasn't surprising.

However, the governor's office said most of the calls and emails it received about the measure were in opposition.

Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat, sponsored the bill and has long argued that students should not be prohibited from praying during public school events.

He said Friday that he worked with the Senate's attorneys to ensure the measure would hold up in court.

"I'm very confident that it will withstand constitutional muster," he said.

The Legislature approved SB 98 largely along party lines, though several Democrats joined Siplin in supporting the proposal.

The "inspiration messages" will teach students tolerance and provide focus, Siplin said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League and Americans United lobbied for a veto along with individual faith leaders who challenged the bill's constitutionality and said it could lead to bullying or intolerance.

"This was a bill that we said would alienate students, make them feel like outsiders in their own classrooms just because they don't belong to the same faith as some of their classmates, or possibly have them be compelled by peer pressure to participate in religious activity that differed from their own family's religious heritage," ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson said.

David Barkey, the Anti-Defamation League's religious freedom counsel, said organizations are ready to sue but would hold off until a district actually decides to put the law into effect.

"I think that the organizations who are looking at this are going to wait until a school in fact adopts a policy under the law and how they implement it," Barkey said.

Friday was the deadline for Scott to sign the legislation, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

He signed the bill quietly and without fanfare.

Siplin broke the story via posts on his Twitter and Facebook pages.

He ended with his usual sign off for social media updates, "Praise God."

Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18