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More North Texas school districts reject chaplains as counselors, but accept them as volunteers

A screenshot of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board members sitting at a rounded table
Grapevine-Colleville ISD trustees voted on Dec. 11, 2023, on a policy that will allow chaplains to serve as volunteers like anyone else.

More North Texas school districts this week voted to accept chaplains as school volunteers, but not as counselors.

Mansfield, Grapevine-Colleyville (GCISD), Keller and Fort Worth were among several districts to vote on the chaplain policy this week ahead of the March 1 deadline. Each district rejected allowing unlicensed chaplains to serve as counselors, but welcomed them as volunteers as long as they follow the same rules as every other district volunteer.

Mary Humphrey, GCISD School Board vice-president, said the policy remains unchanged from her district’s ongoing policy.

“Just because you are a chaplain does not qualify you to be a school counselor,” she said at Monday’s board meeting. “We’ll hire counselors based on certifications and the requirements, just as we always have that are required by the state of Texas.

“But if you happened to have been a chaplain and you have that on your resume vocationally or even as a volunteer, that also does not disqualify you from applying to be a counselor. Being a chaplain at some point in your past is irrelevant.”

Senate Bill 763, authored by Republican Sen. Mayes Middleton, requires school boards to accept or reject chaplains as school counselors. He said it could help currently understaffed districts as more students experience stress, tension and mental health concerns.

Opponentsof the billand to school district policies allowing chaplains to volunteer or work in schools say they’re concerned it’s a way to let religion into classrooms.

Humphrey stressed that any hired staff shouldn’t be proselytizing to students.

“We’re not talking about people being hired as chaplains to serve in a chaplain capacity,” she said. “Anybody that’s hired, if they happen to be a chaplain that’s incidental. They’re serving in the capacity as counselor, so they should not be proselytizing anyway.”

In Keller ISD,trustee Ruthie Keyes stepped down during Monday’s meeting after a tense discussion over a resolution to allow a chaplain to volunteer “pursuant to ... existing District policy and practices.”

Although interim Superintendent John Allison told the board there is “no intent to replace counselors with chaplains,” Keyes said the language leaves open the possibility for chaplains to one day work in the district.

No change to district policy

Back in Grapevine-Colleyville, trustees questioned why state lawmakers are requiring local boards to weigh in on the issue.

Hiring the best person for the job “has always been our practice,” Humphrey said, noting the policy voted on by the board doesn’t change anything.

Trustee Becky St. John said the discussion wasn’t a “good use of time and resources,” and that she would be voting against the resolution.

“We could go ad infinitum here,” she said, “with listing, ‘We’re going to allow physicians to volunteer in GCISD but they’re not going to be operating. We’re going to employ somebody who’s an airline pilot but they’re not actually going to fly a GCISD plane.

“And so I don’t think this policy is necessary.”

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.