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North East ISD trustees vote not to allow the use of chaplains as mental health volunteers

reading the bible - mono
tommytucker7182/Getty Images/iStockphoto
reading the bible - mono

The North East Independent School District board of trustees voted Monday against creating a policy that would allow chaplains to be used as mental health volunteers across the district.

Senate Bill 763, one of the hundreds of state laws that went into effect last year, gives districts the option of allowing chaplains to provide mental health services to students.

Chaplains who are employed or are volunteering are not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.

The law also requires every school board in the state to vote on whether or not they will allow chaplains to serve as counselors by March 1.

North East ISD trustees Steve Hilliard and Marsha Landry asked for the topic to be added to the agenda of of a board meeting early last semester, showing early support for the idea. But when it came time to vote Monday evening, Steve Hilliard joined the board majority and voted to maintain North East ISD's current policies and not develop a specific policy related to allowing chaplains as counselors in the school district.

Trustee Marsha Landry was the lone vote against.

"There's merit to it, but I think at this point we have to make a decision for clarity now, and then maybe possibly (have) further discussion down the road," Hilliard said.

"I think it's very clear that we need to keep our counselors. Any consideration for the chaplains would have to be a volunteer," Hilliard added, noting that the district's current policies allows anyone who passes a background check to volunteer for more general support roles at NEISD schools, regardless of their religion or occupation.

However, Landry said she thought it was important to allow chaplains to volunteer specifically as chaplains within schools, not volunteering to provide support for school activities.

"I think this is an opportunity that we would be remiss to pass up," Landry said, arguing that writing a board policy on chaplains contrasted to liberal influences she claimed were happening in the district without board permission.

"My son came home from school one day, so excited about the new gods he learned about in science," Landry said. "Nobody came and said, 'Hey, we're going to be teaching your son about other deities.' My friend's daughter's English teacher asked the class to give their pronouns and said, 'let me know if your parents know so I don't accidentally out you.' These things exist."

Trustee Diane Sciba Villarreal said she could see allowing chaplains to volunteer if the district policy was very clear on limits like parent permission, but that the community she represents has made it clear they don't want it.

Trustee David Beyer, however, said he was wary of any chaplain policy, even if it is limited.

"That's a sort of slippery slope," Beyer said. "That role all of a sudden could take on the idea that it is somebody that is a counselor. Even though we don't necessarily say this is a counselor."

"If they're going to be in direct contact with our students, my opinion is that they should either meet (the qualifications to be a counselor) or they can volunteer like everybody else in the community."

Several community members, including faith members, spoke against the idea of chaplains volunteering as counselors during public comments.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.