New Castle News

March 21, 2012

Wilmington Schools: Visitors lobby for prayer at board meeting

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Wilmington school board opened its meeting with a moment of silence in lieu of prayer.

But spirituality was not absent Monday night.

Joey Commisso of New Wilmington touted his support of prayer and recited The Lord’s Prayer. He asked those who wanted to, to join in bowing their heads.

“Prayer is a huge part of this community,” he said during the visitors portion of the session, adding the majority of people in the district go to church and worship Christ.

In Chicago in the early 1960s, “we were praying every day in school. Now we don’t have prayer in school. How do you like the results?” he asked.

The board voted 7-2 last month that it would not knowingly allow anything illegal to occur at its meetings.

Discussion included whether the board was doing anything illegal by offering prayer before its regular meetings.

The subject was broached by member Robert Curry, who said he had received a phone call about it.

Solicitor Charles Mansell advised them that the courts frown on prayer in meetings and referred to a decision form the Third Circuit Court.

Later in that meeting, board member Dr. David Swerdlow indicated he felt he needed to say something about the invocation, because he supports the separation of church and state.

Mansell advised that a moment of silence would be acceptable but prayer would be illegal.

However, at the same meeting the board defeated a motion to replace the invocation with a moment of silence.

At its public work session last week, it voted again to implement a moment of silence at the beginning of the meetings in lieu of the invocation.

“They did not want to violate the law,” explained superintendent C. Joyce Nicksick after Monday’s meeting.

On Monday, several visitors spoke in favor of prayer at the board meetings.

One was Fern Heckert of Pulaski, who said she had attended board meetings years ago and was not insulted by the prayers.

“I truly believe the next (issue) we’re going to have to face is Christmas in the schools.”

She said she remembers gathering around the school Christmas tree and singing carols, adding she would hate to have her grandchildren miss out on that.

“I’ve had a stone in my shoe since the last meeting,” commented Claudia McConnell of Volant. “I believe it’s really important to keep that prayer before the school board meeting.

“You guys decide a lot for the kids ... and it’s never a bad idea to ask the higher powers for guidance,” she said, adding, “I can’t imagine it insulting anybody.”

Tim Cuff of New Wilmington thanked the board for the vote to remove the district-led prayer from the agenda and for “acting in a manner that respects our community.”

(Email: dmorris@ncnewsonline.com)