A state law that passed last year requires Texas school districts to decide whether or not they will allow chaplains to work or volunteer within their schools. Local school boards must vote on the issue by March 1.

The law, known as Senate Bill 763, allows school districts or open-enrollment charter schools to have chaplains on their campuses as employees or volunteers.

The chaplains would “provide support, services, and programs for students as assigned by the board of trustees of the district or the governing body of the school.”

Whether they are employees or volunteers, the chaplains are not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification. However, districts are required to run criminal background checks and to verify that any chaplain allowed in schools has not been convicted of a crime that requires them to register as a sex offender.

SB 763 directs each school district to take a record vote on whether to adopt a policy authorizing chaplains on campuses no later than six months after the law’s effective date of September 1.

Allowing chaplains in public schools is controversial among Texans.

Some are concerned that the policy lets religion into classrooms. However, the National School Chaplain Association says that school chaplaincy programs follow regulations that prohibit promoting specific religious beliefs.

Others are wary of any additional counseling services offered to children at school.

Many school districts across Texas have already voted on the issue.

Keller ISD trustees voted 6-1 to adopt a policy allowing chaplains to be volunteers in the district’s schools. Trustee Ruthie Keyes, who cast the lone “no” vote, quit over the issue. Keyes was the last trustee whose seat had not been flipped by conservative voters in the district.

Fort Worth and Grapevine-Colleyville ISDs in North Texas and Round Rock, Georgetown, and Pflugerville ISDs in Central Texas also voted to accept chaplains as volunteers.

Carroll ISD trustees adopted a policy that allows district schools to hire chaplains as counselors if they meet the same requirements as other guidance counselors. Board President Cam Bryan said the legislature should not have mandated that every district vote on the issue.

All the districts approving chaplains said they will not replace certified counselors currently employed by their schools.

Trustees in Dallas ISD, one of the largest districts in Texas, voted unanimously to reject chaplains in its schools in any capacity.

Just north of Dallas in more conservative Collin County, McKinney ISD also rejected chaplains as employees or volunteers, with Trustee Chad Green casting the lone vote in favor. Frisco and Plano ISDs also voted against chaplains, while Allen ISD trustees adopted a policy that chaplains cannot work as counselors but may be accepted as volunteers like any other community member.

The state’s largest school district, Houston ISD, has not yet voted on the issue. HISD’s next scheduled board meeting is on January 18, but the agenda for that meeting is not yet available.

Texans can contact their local school board trustees to determine the status of their district’s mandatory vote on school chaplains.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.