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Opinion: 9/11 Silence is golden in Pa. schools

A proposal to honor those who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in schools across Pennsylvania is soon to reach the desk of Gov. Josh Shapiro.

The plan, offered by Rep. Jim Haddock, a Democrat who represents the state’s 118th Legislative District, calls for a moment of silence to be observed in schools across the state on the anniversary of the event - the largest territorial attack in the nation’s history - to honor the memory of its victims.

House Bill 1097, which passed unanimously in the House and in the Senate back in 2023, also states that the Department of Education will direct tools and guidance to schools across the Commonwealth on how to proceed and appropriately teach students of all ages.

The events of 9/11 were collectively a milestone event for a generation, much like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 or the moon landing in 1969 or the COVID-19 pandemic, whose effects are still being dealt with.

Though many of us still remember those events, students in today’s classrooms weren’t yet born when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

They would never experience the horror of watching live television as United Flight 175 pierced the South Tower minutes later, killing all aboard.

The subsequent collapse of both structures brought about by the deliberate action of al-Qaeda terrorists claimed countless lives instantly.

Minutes later, American Flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia only to become the third of four hijacked airliners. Members of the same terrorist group took the aircraft over, only to crash it into the Pentagon, killing 64 passengers and 125 people in the building.

A fourth jetliner, United Airlines Flight 93, was heading from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California when it was hijacked by four al-Qaeda terrorists who planned to crash the aircraft into another federal building in Washington, D.C.

Courageous passengers fought back and the plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.

The news spiraled the nation into a darkness of dealing with tragedy never experienced before - or since.

Its effects touched everyone, including those in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Poconos, areas which were growing into an extension of New York City.

In all, 30 people from Pennsylvania were among those who died that day. Five came from Monroe County, and one from Carbon County.

Almost immediately, a groundswell of support pulled volunteers and supplies from the area to Ground Zero.

Emergency workers took equipment and medicine. Clergy members offered solace and comfort, many to local folks with ties to Manhattan while others traveled to help minister to those who combed the rubble for signs of life.

Haddock says his bill would ensure future generations of Pennsylvanians understand the events of 9/11, how they changed our lives.

The bill applies to charter schools, intermediate units and career and technical schools, in addition to mandating development of a related curriculum within 12 months.

That curriculum would require teachings about the historical context of terrorism as well as details about the attacks themselves, including how Americans reacted and recovered. It also would need to look at the post 9/11 world as well as the global challenges and consequences we’ve dealt with since then and in the future.

It could be tailored to include how the attacks affected areas served by local schools, especially while many of us who lived through those days can still share their stories.

Even with the bipartisanship surrounding the measure, some have argued that the moment of silence might be construed as a religious practice, thus violating the separation of church and state.

Others say the moment might be traumatic or emotionally distressing for some students who lost family in the attacks.

But the educational benefits far outweigh those concerns, especially when it comes to lessons in history, empathy and resilience.

With that go the spirit of patriotism and remembrance the moment would bring. As we’ve done often since then, a silent time would honor victims, first responders and their families. Continuing to do so would exemplify the sense of unity we’ve come to know since those dark days.

All that considered, Gov. Shapiro should sign the bill into law as soon as possible.

Perhaps the best advice for the governor could be in words used by Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93.

Let’s roll!

ED SOCHA | tneditor@tnonline.com

Ed Socha is a retired newspaper editor with more than 40 years’ experience in community journalism.

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.