Experts discuss Texas bill allowing schools to hire chaplains as additional counsel for students, teachers

Experts discuss Texas bill allowing schools to hire chaplains as additional counsel for students, teachers
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 2:50 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 10:26 PM CDT
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EAST TEXAS (KLTV/KTRE) - East Texas school districts are considering SB 763, regarding the legality of hiring chaplains or allowing volunteer chaplains to work alongside licensed counselors in schools. Representative Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant) authored the original House bill. Once a district approves chaplains, the board has the discretion to set their own policy including what qualifications they want chaplains to have and how they will function in the schools.

The CEO of the National School Chaplain Association spoke in favor of the bill, while an East Texas reverend and retired chaplain spoke against it.

Rocky Malloy, CEO of the National School Chaplain Association, does not see the bill as a violation of separation of church and state. Malloy said chaplains are misunderstood, and largely play a necessary role as trusted confidants for students and teachers. According to Malloy, chaplains “protect from outside and inside threats,” and he believes that school chaplains could reduce suicides and shootings.

“When people ask that question really they don’t understand how chaplaincy works. If a chaplain is talking to a Jewish child or a Jewish teacher for instance, and they have a spiritual issue, they need care, then the chaplain’s job would be to call someone that best represents their need,” he says.

Reverend Dr. Michael G. Maness is one of 103 chaplains who signed a letter asking all Texas school boards to say ‘no’ to public school chaplain programs. Maness is from Woodville, and was a hospital and prison chaplain for several decades, but he strongly opposes the adoption of the law in public schools. Maness says the National School Chaplain Association has a biased stance and an undermining tone towards educators: “As if they need religion too, and the undercurrent is that they need protestant evangelical religion.”

“We all want the schools to be neutral and focused on education, and the agenda for this side, which just appears to me is just to be another way to Christianize the school,” he says. “With respect to our kiddos who are the most vulnerable and most in need of affirmation and esteem, and some kids are really struggling with inferiority, it’s very easy to buy into this when this particular faith becomes ‘the faith of the hour.’”

When asked about the letter of opposition, Malloy took a clear stance.

“I completely agree that parents are the ones held responsible for the educational, spiritual, every type of development of their child. They’re responsible, not the state of Texas. So, my question is, who are the 103 chaplains that signed this? Who do they work with? I could give you a letter with 30,000 of our chaplains who have experience in schools that say they’re making a real difference in the lives of students.”

Zero chaplains trained by Malloy’s organization are currently employed in the United States, with the exception of Puerto Rico. He says they have deployed chaplains to over 26,000 schools across all Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil.

Both experts agree that a chaplain cannot and will not replace the role of a licensed professional counselor, but Malloy says there is a space for chaplains to work alongside counselors.

“Another problem with a counselor is ... a big issue is ... depression, so if a student talks to a professional licensed counselor and that counselor, yes, determines you are clinically depressed, almost all depression is related to guilt, but where are they going to go from there? Guilt is a spiritual issue, so a chaplain can take, and then pray for forgiveness… counselors don’t do that,” he says.

In East Texas, Waskom ISD has approved chaplains to volunteer in its schools.

Brownboro ISD voted ‘no.’ Superintendent Keri Hampton released a statement to further explain their decision:

“The Brownsboro ISD Board of Trustees voted to not accept the use of chaplains as volunteers or employees due to already having certified school counselors on staff, as well as current partnerships with various community agencies for additional mental health counseling services. SB 763 that allows chaplains to be employed by schools does not require any training and/or qualifications of chaplains serving in the school setting. We believe that trained school counselors are the best ones to provide this level of support to students due to specialized training in social emotional development, trauma informed care, special programs training and various other aspects related to meeting the needs of students.

We are thankful for our local churches, businesses, and volunteer organizations who support our district and students in various ways throughout the year. We look forward to continuing these partnerships in our community with the unified goal of serving our students together.”

Mineola ISD will vote on the law at its upcoming board meeting. Superintendent Cody Mize also released a statement:

“Senate Bill 763 requires each school board in the State of Texas to take a record vote between September 1, 2023 and March 1, 2024, on whether to adopt a policy authorizing a campus of the district to employ or accept volunteer chaplains under Education Code Chapter 23. My recommendation to the Board of Trustees will be to permit the volunteer use of chaplains to provide support services and programs that add value to our student body. The number of crisis incidents in schools continues to increase and this legislation allows us another avenue to receive specialized volunteers who can positively impact our students during their greatest times of need.”

According to the Texas Tribune, SB 763 was approved in an 84-60 vote in the Texas House, one day after it passed the Texas Senate.