Texas lawmakers want to replace trained school counselors with untrained chaplains
"A school district may employ a chaplain instead of a school counselor," reads SB 763
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Texas Republicans have filed a bill that would allow public schools to replace trained counselors and social workers with unlicensed Christian chaplains. The first hearing for the bill will take place on Wednesday.
SB 763, filed by Sen. Mayes Middleton and co-authored by Sens. Bryan Hughes and Charles Perry, along with companion bill HB 3614, which was filed by Rep. Cole Hefner, would amend state law to allow schools to hire chaplains in lieu of people who actually know what they’re doing:
… a school district may employ a chaplain instead of a school counselor to perform the duties required of a school counselor under this title. A chaplain employed under this subsection is not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.
The rest of the three-page bill simply adds “chaplain” to all the other parts of the existing law that say schools can use funding to hire social workers and the like.
In essence, a school would be able to bring in local pastors who have no formal certification to work with children while dismissing the experts who were actually trained to help kids.
These bills come at a time when Texas schools are struggling to find mental health providers at all. A Houston Chronicle report noted last year that Texas public schools serving 98% of students “did not meet the Texas Education Agency’s recommendation of one counselor per 250 students.” It all boiled down to funding:
The Chronicle interviewed staff in 10 districts, from urban to suburban, large to small, across the state about mental health-related positions.
Most said the staffing shortage comes down to money.
The state does not provide districts funding specifically earmarked for hiring these four positions [counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists]. Districts have to cobble together resources from federal, state and local revenue, as well as partnerships with philanthropic organizations.
Even though Texas has a budget surplus of roughly $32.7 billion, these lawmakers aren’t even thinking about giving schools the resources they need to hire more mental health professionals. Instead, they want those positions staffed by chaplains who would undoubtedly be Christian and who don’t need any paperwork to attest to their abilities to do the job.
We’ve seen plenty of symbolic examples of Christian Nationalism, like putting “In God We Trust” in public schools, but this legislation would actively harm children by not giving them access to qualified professionals in a place where, and at a time when, they arguably need them more than ever.
This is part of a push by the National School Chaplain Association, an explicitly Christian ministry. In a press release celebrating the Texas twin bills, the NSCA ironically noted the need for more chaplains as a result of school violence:
The launch of NSCA's new campaign coincides with a report by the U.S. Department of Education on the prevalence of school violence, which includes shootings, fighting, bullying, and physical assault. According to the report, the majority of students have experienced at least one incident of violence while they were in school. In addition, most victims say it has negatively impacted their mental health and made them consider dropping out or moving to another school. The NSCA's chaplains help these students by giving them a solid spiritual foundation and a safe space to express their pain and frustrations.
The association believes spiritual care has long been absent from the school system. As a result, students are often left alone to navigate complex emotions without support from trusted adults or authority figures.
So… instead of making sure schools have enough funding to hire experts in mental health, the NSCA wants to replace them with untrained chaplains who only have Jesus at their disposal. We’ve already seen that happening in the military and there’s been pushback for years from people who want solutions that don’t involve one specific faith.
Bringing chaplains to schools won’t solve any problems; it’ll only create new ones. Why would a Muslim or atheist student be better off meeting with a Christian chaplain and not a trained social worker? Is there any reason to think non-Christian chaplains would be hired by any of these districts? What would the chaplain bring to the table that those other (actual) experts can’t? Absolutely nothing. If a child wants to see a pastor, their families should be able to arrange it on their own time.
Even if the chaplains are prohibited from evangelizing in the public schools, their very presence sends the message that Christianity alone can solve problems. The entire assumption that chaplains are beneficial rests on the idea that mental health problems are the result of a lack of proper spirituality.
The NSCA even says on its website: “Mass shooting and teens killed or injured by gun violence is at an all-time high. Make your school safer by hiring a chaplain.” At no point does the website connect the two giant glaring dots between gun violence and gun access. Nope. Just Jesus. That’s it. That’s the only answer.
Mayes Middleton, of course, has filed multiple bills promoting Christian Nationalism already, including one bringing Bible reading to public schools and another that would do away with all kinds of church/state separation barriers. It’s no surprise that he’s pushing this religious nonsense now because he firmly believes the church—his church specifically—should dictate all state policy.
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