Kentucky House committee advances bill requiring moment of silence in schools

Published 3:05 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2024

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky schools would set aside time for a moment of silence at the start of each school day under a bill that won approval from a state House committee on Tuesday.

The moment of silence would last one to two minutes at the start of the first class each day in public schools across the Bluegrass State. Students would decide how to use that time and school personnel would be prohibited from instructing them on their silent reflection. Parents would be notified of the policy and encouraged to offer guidance to their children on how to spend that time.

The measure — House Bill 96 — cleared the Republican-led House Education Committee and advances to the full House. The proposal drew criticism that it seems to set time aside specifically for prayer.

GOP Rep. Daniel Fister, the bill’s lead sponsor, responded: “The child is just allowed a time to focus on whatever is important to them — whether it be the dog ate my homework speech or whatever they want to work on. But this allows them that time to settle and get ready for the day.”

Under the bill, every student would remain seated and silent during that time.

Setting aside a brief time for quiet reflection allows students to “decompress before the school day begins,” Republican Rep. Killian Timoney said in supporting the bill.

“Where we are in 2024, with technology and this unreal pressure from social media for our kids to be in, they need an intentional time just to catch their breath,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Tina Bojanowski said she sees the bill as requiring prayer during the school day. She was among three committee members who opposed the measure.

“They (students) have a right to pray at any time during the day,” Bojanowski said. “But what this bill creates is a time specifically, I believe, intended to be for prayer, which is a little edgy because we have what’s called the ‘establishment clause.’”

Public schools were barred from leading students in classroom prayer following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling decades ago that said it violated a First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a government religion.

The committee advanced another bill on Tuesday to bolster disclosure requirements meant to reveal allegations of past misconduct when teachers seek jobs in other school districts.

The measure won bipartisan support and advances to the full House. The bill’s sponsor is Republican Rep. James Tipton, the chairman of the House Education Committee.

The bill aims to ensure that Kentucky school administrators are aware when a teacher applying for a job in their district has been accused of sexual misconduct.

“This is a sad reality,” Tipton told the committee.

It would prevent school districts from entering into nondisclosure agreements related to teacher misconduct involving a student. Applicants for jobs would have to disclose whether they were the subject of any allegation or investigation within the past 12 months,

When considering a job applicant, districts would have to contact each district that previously employed the person for a reference check. Previous employers would have to disclose any allegation, investigation or disciplinary action related to abusive conduct while the applicant worked for that district.

The legislation is a response to a series of stories by the Lexington Herald-Leader that focused on teacher sexual misconduct. The newspaper uncovered instances where teachers who had previously been accused of sexual misconduct moved to other school districts and were accused again of misconduct.