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DeSantis signs two bills to bring chaplains, patriotic organizations to schools

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(The Center Square) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday intended to provide more educational opportunities for public school students.

House Bill 1317 allows patriotic organizations to speak to students and distribute certain materials to encourage participation. Patriotic organizations mentioned in the new law include Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boy Scouts of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Civil Air Patrol, Naval Sea Cadets and the Marine League Corps.

HB 931 authorizes each school district or charter school board to adopt a policy that would allow volunteer school chaplains to provide support, services and programs to students.

DeSantis said that he and the Legislature have worked very hard to support students, including expanding school choice, scholarship programs and mental health support, adding that the new legislation will help bolster these efforts.

“We have ensured that mental health education involves personal resiliency, talks about perseverance, volunteerism, mentorship, problem-solving, empathy, citizenship and honesty. A really comprehensive approach,” DeSantis said, noting that these school years can be tough for students.

Funding for mental health programs in schools across Florida has ranged from $75 million in 2019-2020 to $140 million during the 2022-23 fiscal year. For the 2024-25 budget, $160 million has been secured. A further $5.5 million has been earmarked to go towards evidence-based teacher training, so educators can recognize the signs of mental health and substance abuse.

DeSantis added that it is important for children to stay active, as often many children are glued to their devices and are not spending as much time outside as they used to and that the legislation will help encourage students to spend more time outdoors.

“Now you’re gonna have these key groups come in, talk about what they do and ask the students to participate,” DeSantis said. “I really believe when you are engaged in extracurricular activities, athletics, some of these other things, that’s gonna be a net positive for these students.”

DeSantis added that chaplains in schools will also be a positive thing for students, providing useful resources and would have a role similar to chaplains in the Armed Forces.

“I think that model of just having this available as part of the services that you’re providing, like we do in the military, we should be doing the same for our students here in school,” DeSantis said.

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