May 21, 2002 11:00 pm

The East Coast terrorist attacks have brought out a more serious and spiritual side in many Americans. Churches opened their doors for prayer and meditation on the evening of Sept. 11 and in the days following the tragedies.

Some Americans returned to the faith of their childhood or began to experience a new, spiritual dimension in their lives. Church attendance and prayer increased shortly after the attacks.

Because of that, it is not surprising that some state lawmakers have been seeking for a return of prayer in the schools. A return of teachers leading in prayer and reading a Psalm or some other scripture before the school day begins is not likely. The 20th century brought an end to the practice as the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory school prayer.

LEGISLATORS HAVE taken a creative look at the issue. A bill takes effect in Ohio in July that permits students in their public classrooms to have one minute in the morning for quiet reflection. Children will not be led in prayer by a teacher. And no child will be required to pray.

Children, who have developed faith, may choose to offer a quiet prayer during the moment of silence. Other youngsters may use the minute to clear their thoughts and prepare themselves for the day's tasks.

Ohio wisely did not mandate the moment of silence for every public classroom. School districts will be able to decide whether to require teachers to set aside the silent time for students, based on public support.

WE'RE wondering if teachers should be required to participate. Some instructors might be uncomfortable with the silent minute and view it as a waste of time. Students would pick up on the attitude of a teacher who is less than enthusiastic about enforcing the quiet minute. Many teachers, however, will support the idea.

Lawmakers elsewhere should look closely at what is happening in Ohio this fall. If the program appears to work, bringing greater peace and focus to a classroom, a moment of silence could be considered for Oregon and other states.

Community responds

La Grande-area residents showed in no uncertain terms that they value a program that teaches third-graders how to swim.

The La Grande School District had put the water safety program on the chopping block because of the need for budget cuts. Di Lyn Larsen-Hill, a former city councilor and a Soroptimist Club member, dived in to rescue it.

The community came through, contributing $3,500 in two weeks to allow the swimming instruction to be offered to third-graders this month. The Soroptimists were a major contributor, chipping in $1,200.

Parents of the children should be thankful. The La Grande School Board should take note. The board should plan to include the funds in future budgets.