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CFISD Faces Decision on Chaplain Policy: Balancing Mental Health Support with Church-State Separation

School boards across Texas are grappling with a significant decision following the passage of Senate Bill 763 in 2023, which grants them the authority to determine whether to employ or accept chaplains as volunteers within public school districts. This move has sparked debate over the role of religious representatives in nonreligious settings, such as schools.

Effective September 1, SB 763 mandates that school boards vote on chaplain policies by March 1, providing a deadline for districts to establish their stance on this matter.

The legislation, authored by State Sen. Mayes Middleton and co-authored by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, outlines several key provisions:

Chaplains are permitted to offer mental health support, behavioral health services, and suicide prevention and intervention. Chaplains are exempt from the State Board for Educator Certification requirements applicable to traditional school counselors. Chaplains with a history of registration as sex offenders are ineligible for employment or volunteering. The current landscape within school districts, such as Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD), underscores the importance of mental health resources and school safety. However, despite these priorities, CFISD currently lists only four school counselor vacancies on its website.

Applicants for school counselor positions must meet specific qualifications, including a master’s degree, relevant experience, and certification. CFISD also maintains partnerships with local churches and conducts criminal background checks on all adult volunteers working with students, adhering to district policies.

While the prospect of chaplains providing services to students has garnered support from some quarters, others, like the Cypress Families for Public Schools, have expressed opposition. This nonpartisan parent group argues that allowing chaplains to work with students could violate the principle of separation of church and state, asserting that chaplains are held to a lower standard of qualifications compared to school counselors.

The decision on whether to implement chaplain policies within CFISD is slated for discussion and voting at the upcoming board meeting on February 12. The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Mark Henry Administration Building in Cypress, will provide a platform for stakeholders to weigh in on this contentious issue that intersects education, religion, and public policy.