Oct. 2—At 6:29 a.m. Wednesday, with the morning sun barely shining through the clouds on the flag pole outside Middletown High School, Shurine Winston stepped out of her vehicle, her cell phone clutched in her right hand.
She immediately started scrolling through her phone searching for "Young People's Cry" by Jekalyn Carr, the same song she listens to every morning Monday through Friday.
Winston, as she has every day for the last two years when school is in session, paced around the flag pole, praying for a wide range of topics, including student and staff safety, peace for students at home and for the wrath of Hurricane Ian not to cause catastrophic damage to the Florida coast.
"I do want to see change and I know prayer changes things," said Winston, 62, a paraprofessional in the high school. "I just love God. I love this type of work."
Minutes later, she was joined by 13 more people, including high school staff and students who just stepped off the bus. This was a special day, "See You at the Pole" day, an annual gathering of students and teachers at school flag poles around the country.
Winston was happy to see the other prayer warriors. Each of them took turns saying a prayer out loud, the whole time Winston swaying with her eyes closed.
Prayer by public school employees in school has been unconstitutional for 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Since 1962, the court has ruled repeatedly that the Constitution's wording against governmental establishment of religion prohibits prayer in the class and at school functions.
That decision was back in the news this summer when the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 majority opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District determining that Joseph Kennedy, a former Washington State public high school football coach, had the right to pray on the field.
Seven years ago, Kennedy was placed on administrative leave for repeatedly praying on the 50-yard line after football games. He sued the school district for violating his constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise clause.
Now Winston wants to spearhead a movement to bring prayer back into public schools.
"I can be a starter," she said. "Set the fire. When a fire starts, if you don't put it out, it will keep going."
Pat Herndon, a friend of Winston's, and Jake Senft, a fellow Middletown teacher, hope to pour gasoline on the flames and hide all the extinguishers.
"What is happening in the schools is just terrible," Herndon said. "We have to let the community know that we will not stand for this. It starts with prayer. We got to try something. Prayer changes things. God is real and I know that He's real."
Senft, who has worked in the district for 20 years, said regardless of the current circumstances, the outlook can improve.
"This economy is crushing us; the economy is just hurting people," he said. "God tells us to come before Him with requests. God is listening whether you believe it or not. God answers every prayer. Without God, this world is falling."
Now a small group of people are hoping all public schools can return God to the classroom, and if that happens, they will receive a passing grade.