With the start of the school year only days away, the Booneville School Board was told last week everything was ready to go and that the school would be observing a 60-second moment of silence to start each day.
The moment of silence, mandated by Act 576 of 2013, requires each school day start with a minute of silence which superintendent John K. Parrish said can by used "to pray, read, draw, whatever. It is a state law and we will abide by it."
Created by House Bill 1690 for which Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, was a co-sponsor, the law specifically states a student may reflect, pray or engage in a silent activity without interfering or distracting another student.
The provision for a minute of silence was previously optional but as it is now mandated, it has the attention of the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union and Northwest Arkansas Chapter chairman Tom Kennedy.
Because it is viewed as a way to get prayer back in school, Eubanks said he will not be surprised if it is challenged.
"In this day and age nothing would surprise me," said Eubanks. "I don’t think it will be challenged locally but it might be somewhere else in the state.
The bill passed the house 79-4, with 17 voting present, and the Senate 34-1. Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, was also a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate and voted for the bill.
"When I was in school we said the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance every day," said Eubanks.
Still, Eubanks doesn’t think prayer will return to school any time soon.
Parrish said the enrollment heading into the school year was 1320 in kindergarten through 12th grade. That is down by four from the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
It was last year when enrollment finally stabilized for the first time since the Cargill fire of 2008, Parrish reminded the board. The district ended the 2011-2012 school year with 1,290 students enrolled.
Principals were also complimentary of school maintenance and technology personnel who spent the summer preparing the buildings and upgrading technology for the new school year.
The final board meeting prior to the new school year also included a report from curriculum coordinators Mark Clemmons and Karen Hart.
Started by Clemmons last summer, the report broke down each grade level in comparison to the remaining 21 schools in the Western Arkansas Education Service Cooperative to which Booneville belongs.
The high point of the report showed Booneville students led the cooperative service area in end of course geometry testing with 86 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced.
Seventh grade students were second — to County Line by a percentage point, 85-84 — in the co-op.
With 91 percent scoring proficient or advanced in math, fourth grade students were third in the Co-op to Charleston and Greenwood. Also placing third among the 22 schools were Booneville’s seventh grade students on the science test and eighth grade students on the math test.
There was also a fourth and three fifth place finishes in the 18 tests Clemmons ranked.
Clemmons also provided a composite average of all averages that showed the school ranked sixth in the literacy averages and fourth in math averages.