Sunday, January 22, 2012

‘Unconstitutional’: Critics Slam FL Bill Allowing Prayer at School Events

Florida State Senator Gary Siplin, a Democrat representing Orlando, is on a mission to bring prayer back to public schools. The lawmaker has proposed a bill that would make it legal for students to lead prayer. Yes, in public schools.

The proposal would enable school districts to decide if they want to allow the religions practice at school events. Currently, students are permitted to pray on an individual basis, though the group-led prayer being proposed is obviously quite different. Siplin, likely realizing the controversial nature of the bill, has explained that no student would be mandated to participate.

“It is completely voluntary,” he said. “But we do not want any influence from the principal, the counselor, the dean, the coach or parents.”

The proposal would change the current dynamic, which does not allow student-led prayer at school-sponsored events, by “allowing the use of an inspirational message, including prayers of invocation or benediction, at secondary school commencement exercises or any other noncompulsory student assembly.”

To the surprise of some atheists and groups that espouse an intense adherence to the separation of church and state, the developments are troubling. Already, the bill has attracted bi-partisan support in committee. Within its text there are restrictions laid out to determine what, exactly, the prayer should look like — restrictions that aren’t enough to curb criticism, though.

According to the bill’s text, it “…is not intended to advance or endorse any religion or religious belief.” provides the proposal’s parameters for the prayer. It must be:

* Directed by the student government of the school.

* Led by students, with no direction by school personnel.

* “Non-sectarian and non-proselytizing in nature.”

Florida Bill Would Allow Prayer at School Events | Senator Gary SiplinThe American Civil Liberties Union has come out strong against the proposal, writing the following in a letter posted its web site:
The bill they are considering, Senate Bill 98, would let school districts overrule the objections of religious minorities and organize school-sponsored prayer under the banner of student government. Under the bill, school officials would be able to skirt the Constitutional protections of religious liberty by letting students actually vote on what kind of prayers the school will allow and conduct.

Religious expression is an individual liberty and shouldn’t be put to a vote like a Prom King or Homecoming Court. SB98 would give schools free reign to make students feel like outsiders in the classroom, alienated from their peers, or compelled by peer pressure to engage in religious practices that go against their own beliefs.

The Anti-Defamation League has mirrored these statements, calling the bill ”unnecessary, divisive and unconstitutional.” ADL attorney David Barkey, who has testified against the bill, said, “It is setting schools up for costly litigation.”

An identical bill has been introduced in the Florida State House by Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Republican from Keystone Heights.

While Siplin is confident about the bill’s chances, it seems critics are prepared to enter into legislative and court battles, if needed. This story comes on the heels of a prayer mural dispute in Rhode Island and a New York City ban on public schools for worship use by churches.


Utah school district gets rid of cougar mascot because it's offensive to women

Students in Utah may have voted to urge on their sports teams with the battle cry ‘Go Cougars!’ But the school district has overruled the popular choice because it claims it would be insensitive to women.

The students were asked what they wanted to be the mascot for the new Corner Canyon High School, which is scheduled to open in Draper, Utah, next year.

While cougars – the large mountain cats - are prevalent in Utah, the principal Mary Bailey worried people would also be reminded of the popular culture use of the word to describe sexually aggressive middle-aged women who attract younger men.

Some parents and patrons emailed and called board members, saying they were uncomfortable with the idea that their daughters on the drill team and as cheerleading squad would be called Cougars.

The Canyons Board of Education, which consisted of six men and one woman, agreed with the principal and decided to impose the name ‘Charger’ for the mascot. Although ‘Charger’ was on the ballot, it didn’t get close to as many votes as ‘Cougars.’

Ballots were sent out to 4,300 kindergarten through eighth grade students in Draper communities that will feed into the school. Two hundred seventy-three wanted Cougars, 180 wanted Diamondback, 171 wanted Falcons and 141 wanted Raptors.

The decision came even though Brigham Young University, considered one of the country’s most straight-laced colleges, uses the cougar for its mascot.

Ms. Bailey said the name ‘Charger’ gave the school an opportunity to have a unique mascot in Utah. ‘The board said this is a brand new school and we want to unite the community. And if there's something out there that could divide it, let's not go there,’ said district spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook to

While student input was taken into consideration and appreciated, she added that it was always the board's intent to make the final decision


How 500,000 British pupils dodge core High School subjects as schools sign them up for softer options

Almost 500,000 state school pupils are failing to achieve good GCSEs in core subjects because they are signed up to softer options by their schools.

Instead of studying English, maths, history or geography, science and languages – the bedrock of a good education – many are taking easier but less useful subjects such as media studies or sociology.

In addition, league tables being published on Thursday will reveal for the first time how low, medium and high achievers do in their GCSEs in relation to the results of assessments made when they were 11.

Primary league tables from December showed that tens of thousands of 11-year-olds who had top grades at seven then went downhill after being left to coast in maths and English.

Educational reformers are keeping a close eye on GCSE results in core subjects.

More than twice as many public school children as state-educated pupils achieve the Coalition’s new English Baccalaureate.

According to the Department for Education, 35.7 per cent of public school pupils passed last year. That compares to just 15.2 per cent in state education, leaving 84.8 per cent who didn’t make the grade – or 481,000 pupils.

The award is not a qualification, but a measure of how well schools teach core subjects. To pass it, a GCSE student must score between A* and C in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography.

Schools with low numbers achieving the ‘EBacc’ will plunge down league tables.

Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘The EBacc is the Government’s attempt to nudge schools into encouraging pupils to take core subjects.’

Because it was only introduced in September 2010 to include that year’s exam results, it is too soon for it to have had an impact on Thursday’s secondary school league tables.

Professor Smithers said these results would be taken as a ‘baseline’ by which subsequent progress would be measured, adding: ‘For the exams taken this year we will be able to see what the impact has really been.’


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