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Waukegan teacher won't observe mandated moment
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/13/2007 12:25 AM

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The first official day of the state-mandated moment of silence sputtered in Lake County.

While most officials were developing a plan to follow the legislation, one Waukegan teacher said Friday he won't participate and plans to go to court to block it.

Citing religious and constitutional beliefs, Brian Bown, a special education teacher at Waukegan Unit District 60, argued teachers should not be forced to mediate between religions in the classroom.

"This is a deep religious and constitutional issue where the legislators are pitting teacher against teacher," Bown said. "Those who refuse to do this should go to their unions and stand against it."

He vowed to continue teaching and lecturing in class and not observe the moment of silence.

Bown, who wants district officials to refrain from following the requirement, said late Friday afternoon he asked the Waukegan Federation of Teachers to stand behind him and contacted the ACLU of Illinois to file a lawsuit barring the measure.

"Once again these politicians are pushing teachers out on a plank," he said. "They won't do anything to help education funding at the state level, but they will do something like this."

This isn't the first time Bown has fought the issue. He was suspended and eventually released in 1994 from South Gwinnett High School in Georgia for refusing to take part in a 60-second moment of silence each day.

He fought the legislation in court, where it was upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

While some Lake County schools did have a moment of silence Friday, others skipped it while awaiting clarification.

For years, state law has allowed, but not required, a moment of silence to start each school day. This year, some Democratic lawmakers introduced a plan to make it mandatory.

It was overwhelmingly approved but then vetoed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who cited constitutional concerns. This week, lawmakers cast aside that veto, making it law.

There are no penalties included for ignoring or forgetting to follow it; there are no guidelines for how long the "moment" should be.

A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education said the agency would inform local school districts of the new requirement.

"Implementation will be up to the individual districts," spokesman Matt Vanover said.

Fox Lake Elementary District 114 Superintendent John Donnellan said students held a 15-second moment of silence Friday after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

"It's a healthy exercise for everyone to sit for 15 seconds and reflect on the type of person they want to be that day," Donnellan said.

Mary Todoric, spokeswoman for Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, said their schools are among many that did not participate Friday.

The district will develop a plan after determining how long "a moment" of silence should last, she said.

Rondout School Principal Stuart Lassiter said he learned of the requirement Friday. The single-school district will have a plan in place for Monday, he said.

Since all students are bused, they gather every morning before class in the school gymnasium, where they recite the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the school motto.

The moment of silence actually will be a few seconds, according to Lassiter.

"We thought we would fit it in between the Pledge and the Rondout Way," he said.