North East ISD trustees consider allowing chaplains to provide mental health services in schools
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The North East Independent School District is exploring the idea of allowing chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors in the district.
Trustees discussed the idea during a board meeting Monday night.SB 763, one of the hundreds of new state laws that went into effect September 1, gives school districts the option of bringing in chaplains to provide mental health services to students — without being certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.
North East ISD Board President Shannon Grona asked Trustees Marsha Landry and Steve Hilliard to start off the discussion because it was added to the agenda at their request.
“I think this is a great opportunity to bring some spiritual guidance into the schools and ask for chaplains as volunteers to come in and not take over counseling positions, but be there as a resource for children who are interested and might want that type of nourishment,” Landry said.
“It's just a discussion tonight so we can get the community input and be thoughtful about it because it is another resource for those who may want it,” Hilliard said, adding that when he was in the military those who chose to speak to chaplains found it comforting.
“It was always voluntary,” Hilliard said. “Obviously, you get into a different dynamic here at the schools, but still it's another resource when we talk about kids’ overall wellbeing, mental health, all those things.”
But Grona — and the board’s two other more moderate trustees — said they have concerns.
“What if that person talks to the student and the parent didn't want them to talk to the (student)?” Grona said.
Board secretary Sandy Hughey said she was especially concerned that chaplains aren’t trained to work in schools, and aren’t required to be trained under the law.
“If a parent feels that their child needs guidance or counseling from a chaplain, they are more than welcome to do that. It doesn't have to be in the school setting,” Hughey said.
Eight people spoke during public comments, including chaplains and school counselors. Retired teacher Deborah Parrish said she was concerned by the idea of asking religious representatives to work in public schools.
“In my opinion, a true member of a particular religion is going to proselytize, whether on purpose or without realizing they are doing so,” Parrish said.
NEISD school counselor Julie Magadance said she’s the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and appreciates the work chaplains do in the military and at hospitals, but she doesn’t think they’re a good fit for public schools.
“The support services and programs that (are) proposed as the work of these chaplains in the legislation is very vague. There's no context given for what the support will look like or under what circumstances it would be provided,” Magadance said.
She was also concerned about the lack of training or certification required of the chaplains, and that if the chaplains are hired as employees the funding would likely come from the same source used to hire school counselors and other trained professionals.
Pastor Juan Carlos Alonso recommended the board bring chaplains into schools as volunteers to avoid spending money.
“The bottom line is that any of us that have attended school knows that we don't learn about how to (be) a good person in math class, science class or art. But incorporating chaplains in our schools will overall help to create responsible citizens,” Alonso said.
The new state law gives school boards six months to vote on whether or not they want to adopt a policy allowing chaplains to work or volunteer as counselors.