School Districts Considering Chaplains As Mental Health Counselors

( – Katy Independent School District (Katy ISD) is exploring the possibility of permitting unlicensed chaplains to serve as school counselors. Unlike in the military, Texas state law does not mandate licensing or specific training for these chaplains to provide services such as mental health support in schools. However, all chaplain applicants must undergo a background check.

Following the passage of SB 763 by Texas lawmakers, school districts across the state must vote on the measure by March 1, 2024.

During a meeting on Monday, concerned parents and community members voiced their opinions to the Katy ISD board of trustees.

One parent, Lisa Lister-Browne, expressed that if she wanted her children to receive religious teachings at school, she would choose a private school aligned with her faith. She emphasized that this choice is her right as a parent.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Nancy Zarse strongly opposed the policy, emphasizing, “Given the alarming rise in school violence, it is essential that we allocate our resources to trained professionals.”

In August, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty issued a letter demanding the separation of church and state. Initially signed by over 100 chaplains, the number of signatures has since increased to more than 170.

Rev. Jennifer Hawks, Associate General Counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, expressed concerns about the program. She criticized it for adopting the title of chaplain while eliminating the necessary qualifications and training that typically define chaplains. According to her, the program deems such requirements unnecessary and suggests that all that’s needed is someone capable of passing a background check.

While the board hasn’t created a policy for chaplain usage, Trustee Amy Thieme believes there could be positive benefits.

In her first year of teaching, Thieme shared an incident involving a junior high student in a challenging situation. She explained, “The student had spoken to her parents and the nurse, who then approached me, saying, ‘Can you counsel her?’ Thieme expressed that having a chaplain to whom she could have referred the student would have been appreciated rather than handling it herself.

Thieme noted that the board still needs to specify how the district would implement its role if the policy regarding the use of chaplains is passed.

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