September 2, 2023

Sue Kingery Woltanski: Dear God, The FLBOE Is Now Beginning Its Meetings With Prayer.

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Sue Kingery Woltanski keeps an eye on Florida’s educational developments, and she has noticed a new trend in state board of education meetings.

If you are a frequent watcher of Florida State Board of Education (FLBOE) meetings, you might have noticed a recent change in the opening format. For years, the meetings have been called to order by the chair, who immediately asked the audience to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. Occasionally, especially when the meetings were held at a school, there was a Color Guard presentation and/or a student performance of the National Anthem.

For the past two FLBOE meetings, Chair Ben Gibson has called the meeting to order and then asked the audience to stand for an invocation by a Catholic priest. Both priests, perhaps not coincidentally, were associated with local, voucher participating, private schools. This appears to be a new tradition for the Florida Board of Education.

On July 19, 2023, at a meeting held in conjunction with the Teacher of the Year conference at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, in Orlando, Chair Gibson opened the meeting by asking Father Derek Saldana to give the invocation. Saldana was ordained in 2019 and was first priest to be ordained from India in the Diocese of Orlando.  Fr. Saldana is the Parochial Administrator at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School based in Saint Cloud, Florida. According to its website, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Saint Cloud accepts Step Up For Students’ Family Empowerment for Educational Options, Family Empowerment for Students with Unique Abilities, “and others.”

You can watch Fr. Saldana’s invocation at the beginning of the meeting here. He asked God’s blessing on the meeting, asking that people respect each another’s views and always work for the common good,  which he said was “to build a nation that gives God glory.”

She has some questions:

  1. Is the new addition of religious prayer at the beginning of State Board of Education meetings going to become a recurring event?
  2. Should the addition of the invocation and its speaker be noticed on the agenda?
  3. Should audience members be compelled by the chair to stand for an invocation?
  4. What is the process for selecting the clergy or other individuals who will lead these prayers before these board meetings?
  5. How will the state board ensure that religious leaders and community members of diverse faith traditions, and even minority religious beliefs, are offered opportunities to deliver these invocations?
  6. Would the board consider inviting members of Pastors For Florida Children to give future invocations? Pastors for Florida Children is a non-partisan statewide group of clergy and laity advocating for fully funded public schools. They describe themselves as people of faith, who recognize the God-given potential of each child and the promise of the Florida Constitution for high-quality public schools. You can reach them at

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