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School boards begin voting on new measure to allow chaplains to volunteer in schools

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(The Center Square) – Texas school boards have already begun to vote on a new measure to allow or prohibit chaplains from volunteering to provide counseling and other services to students.

SB 763, which passed during the 88th regular legislative session, amended the Texas Education Code to allow school districts or open-enrollment charter schools to “employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain to provide support, services, and programs for students as assigned by the board of trustees of the district or the governing body of the school,” according to the bill language. “A chaplain employed or volunteering under this chapter is not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.”

State Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, who authored the bill, said it “will allow the important role chaplains serve for pastoral care and representing God’s presence within our public schools.”

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in June, and it became effective Sept. 1, 2023. It requires each school board to have a recorded vote to determine if they want to authorize or reject the policy. Votes are required to be taken between Sept. 1, 2023, and March 1, 2024, according to the law.

Several districts have already voted, showing a split among districts that unanimously oppose or support the policy. Fort Worth Independent School District’s board, for example, unanimously voted against it. The board passed a resolution on Dec. 12, stating they wouldn’t be expanding “our current support, services, or programs under Chapter 23 of the Texas Education Code. In accordance with policy, volunteers shall not be used to replace the position or functions of salaried professional or paraprofessional employees.”

At their Dec. 12 board meeting, Trustee Anne Darr said she had “a great respect” for clergy “for what they do and their role in this community. But they are not school counselors. In fact, I think it’s quite insulting to think that someone who isn’t trained to be a school counselor can simply come in and be a school counselor.”

“I do still want to welcome our clergy members into our schools just like any other person — an engineer, a lawyer, a community activist or whoever it is,” she continued. “They are welcome to be part of the life of our campuses.”

Several others in the Dallas metroplex area also voted against it, including Carroll ISD, Dallas ISD, Grapevine ISD, Mansfield ISD, and McKinney ISD.

Over 100 Texas chaplains expressed opposition to the policy, saying, “Chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools,” and the “flawed policy option” is “harmful to our public schools and the students and families they serve.”

Rev. Dave Welch, President of the Texas Pastor Council, and pastors across the state involved in the council, disagree. “The clear reality is that school counselors who divorce the child from their spirit and soul are deficient, while trained and certified chaplains can provide comprehensive support that treats every child as a divine, unique gift from God,” Welch told The Center Square. “Chaplaincy support to children seeking counsel is simply a faith based support that is voluntary for students. The schools most definitely should not discriminate against those students.”

Other districts agreed with Welch and voted to allow chaplains to provide services as assigned by the board. They include Northwest ISD in Fort Worth, Round Rock and Georgetown ISDs outside of Austin, Mineola in northeast Texas, among others.

Mineola ISD Superintendent Cody Mize told the local CBS News affiliate the policy gave them an opportunity to have greater assistance with strained resources. He said the position would be voluntary and district counselors would create a list of qualifications. Volunteers are required to undergo background checks and parental consent will be required before any counseling sessions take place. He also said having chaplains of different faiths was important.

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