Miami-Dade Public Schools board member Lubby Navarro sits next to board member Christi Fraga during a meeting in January. At the April 13 school board meeting, Fraga introduced a measure to designate a National Day of Prayer in Miami-Dade schools. During the discussion, Navarro said “God and Jesus Christ” was the only God, which caused a stir among those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ.

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A move to commemorate the National Day of Prayer at Miami-Dade Public Schools on Wednesday drew an outpouring of support, but caused a stir when a board member suggested that “God and Jesus Christ” were the only God, which led to the vice president apologizing. for the “wound, the pain and anguish” caused by the comments of the board members.

The comments capped a 1 p.m. school board meeting that ended around midnight, with the public discussion taking hours.

National Day of Prayer in Miami Schools

The problem started with a resolution presented by Board Member Christi Fraga calling on the School Board to recognize Thursday, May 5, 2022 as a National Day of Prayer in Schools, in accordance with Congress designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer.

Fraga said her measure made no changes to class or district policies, she told the Herald on Thursday. On the contrary, she wanted to unite people of all faiths and encourage those who want to come together and pray to do so.

Dozens of parents and community organizations like the Christian Family Coalition, which states on its website that its mission is to “empower families at the local level to give them back a voice in their government!” spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting. Most were in favor of the measure, with some saying it was their right – and that of their children – to pray at school. Some evoked the Constitution; one of them claimed that religion in this country was under attack.

Most of those who spoke espoused the Christian faith.

“We fully support the right of students to pray individually at school, and it’s a right they already have under law,” said Josh Sayles, director of Jewish community relations and government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Miami, in a statement. Thursday evening.

But based on previous experience, he added, “the needs of the Jewish community and other minority religions have often been overlooked when overbroad legislation on religion is proposed, and such legislation has also the potential to blur the line between church and state”.

Sayles acknowledged that the resolution “appears to maintain proper First Amendment limitations.” The resolution was updated ahead of Wednesday’s meeting to ensure it complies with state and federal laws.

The board passed the measure by a 9-0 vote.

According to US Department of Educationpublic elementary and secondary schools should have no policies that prevent or otherwise deny participation in constitutionally protected prayer in public schools.

But, notes the DOE in its “Outline of Guiding Constitutional Principles” Related to School Prayer, U.S. Supreme Court decisions have stated that “teachers and other public school officials, acting within the from official duties, may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional Bible readings, or other religious activities, nor may school officials use their authority to attempt to persuade or coerce students to participate in prayer or other religious activities.

School board member’s comments raise questions

Ibty Dames, a senior at the School for Advanced Studies Homestead, was struck by how people disregarded other religions.

“I’m a Muslim so listening to the whole discussion was disheartening,” the 17-year-old said. “The fact that they just said we could all pray together was ignorant. We all pray differently, so it’s not practical to just assume we can all get together and pray.

School board member Lubby Navarro’s comments were particularly upsetting, Ibty said.

Navarro, nominated by Governor Rick Scott in 2015 and elected in 2016 and 2020, recounted once last year when her daughter was in a coma, saying, “IIf it wasn’t for the power of prayer, I wouldn’t have made it out of there without my daughter alive after seven days.

She hopes recognition like this will change the reactions of students and administrators: Youth, “If you’re going through a crisis, take a moment to pray and ask God to help you, instead of saying ‘go home’ or instead of saying, ‘Let’s send to your counsellor.’ ”

Ibty said the idea that a school board member would suggest students pray to release their sadness might prevent them from seeking therapeutic services that might help them.

And in her final comments, Navarro said she hopes the recognition of a day of prayer will “send a message to our community that we have a creator, a creator, and that’s God and Jesus Christ.”

READ MORE: LGBTQ group revokes Miami school board member’s endorsement for anti-trans stance

Feeling others were ‘invisible’ after Navarro comments

For Carrie Feit, district mother of two, lawyer and community advocate, the message from the stage was too much.

Feit, who is Jewish, said she enjoyed the discussions of faith and unity in conversation. But hearing a member of the council mention the name of Jesus, “I had the impression that all of a sudden, you are not in the room; you are invisible,” she told the Herald on Thursday.

She repeated that it was not so much the element itself, or the effort to recognize a day of prayer, but the “last item that was put into it” that upset her.

The board discussion led to Vice Chairman Steve Gallon III apologizing for the board members’ comments. While he did not specify which comments or by whom, he pointed to statements that could have been perceived as offensive and divisive.

The effort reflects “a sensitivity to all groups, all religions, all creeds, all colors, all races, all people, all children,” he said. “But my heart was heavy when I took a breather for a while and heard comments about how some people were made to feel.”

The chalkboard article did not offend, he repeated, but “there was some offense to some of the comments that were made”.

“Personally, as a board member, I apologize,” he said.

Feit did not believe the board members’ comments were intended to hurt community members, she said, but appreciated Gallon’s apology.

Miami schools do not recognize Eid as a holiday

Despite talk of inclusivity, many, if not most, of the voices heard at Wednesday’s meeting were of the Christian faith. Asked if people’s spectacle could indicate that one religion might be favored over another, Fraga, who is running for mayor of Doral, dismissed the idea, saying people need to look at the Miami demographics as they looked at who was talking.

In fact, she says, “Families who have a certain belief system have been almost silenced or just sitting quietly. Now they say we should be part of that inclusivity.

Shabbir Motorwala of the Coalition of Muslim Organizations of South Florida (COSMOS) hopes that remains true.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea, the national day of prayer,” he told the Herald. “Where we come from, religion is always at the center of our lives, as long as we don’t oppose each other.”

He noted, however, that in December, schools in Miami-Dade rejected an effort to have Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan and is one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar, recognized as a day. public holiday in the 2022-23 school year calendar. .

The problem we have with the school system is that it recognizes Christmas and Jewish holidays, but does not give the same recognition to Muslim holidays,” he said.

Last year, the Broward School Board voted to recognize Eid as a school holiday in 2023.

Sommer Brugal is the K-12 education reporter for the Miami Herald. Before heading to Miami, she covered three school districts on Florida’s Treasure Coast for TCPalm, part of the USA Today network.