East Islip elementary students to observe 9/11 next year

East Islip school superintendent Wendell Chu. (April 16, East Islip school superintendent Wendell Chu. (April 16, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by James Carbone

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East Islip elementary school students will observe a moment of silence on 9/11 next year, putting to rest a protest that erupted after the district superintendent banned the observance for younger students this year for fear more "fragile" youngsters might have been emotionally harmed.

The moment of silence was reinstituted by a school board vote last week that approved the recommendations of a committee of staff and residents formed by Superintendent Wendell Chu last month to study the issue. Other recommendations approved include referring to 9/11 as Patriot Day, emphasizing existing curriculum called "Symbols of Citizenship" - such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing patriotic songs - and encouraging staff and students to wear red, white and blue.

"We wanted to commemorate Sept. 11 with a moment of silence, but we wanted to come up with something that was children-friendly, age-appropriate and wouldn't frighten children," school board president Kim Phillips said.

Chu said he barred the moment of silence in elementary schools because he feared it would have sparked discussions about terrorism, which some younger children could not handle emotionally.

"My decision-making process is to try to protect the most fragile of our kids," he said.

Chu said though he supported the board's vote, he felt he made a good decision but wished he had notified parents in advance about the change.

"If I had been able to communicate to parents in advance that we were not going to have a moment of silence, some of the controversy would not have happened," he said.

Peter Carino, who said he retired from the New York City Fire Department on a 9/11-related disability, said he still would have protested the decision. A petition started by Carino, who has a first- and sixth-grader in the district, netted nearly 1,300 signatures on a national Web site.

Carino said he is ecstatic about the school board's vote: "I only asked for a moment of silence, but they offered so much more."

He said he also asked for an apology from Chu and got that as well.

Less than two weeks after 9/11, Chu posted an open letter of apology and explanation on the district's Web site, saying he had formed a committee to examine the issue. He said Tuesday neither was in response to Carino's actions.

Carino said he wants to take his moment-of-silence campaign statewide.

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