After the 88th legislative session approved SB 763 earlier this year, Texas school district boards had around six months to decide to implement the new law. The controversial bill saw pushback from lawmakers and religious groups alike, with over 100 chaplains from Texas signing a joint letter calling school districts across the state to reject the legislation. Now the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) released a statement praising school districts that voted against implementing the law.
Between Sept. 1, 2023 and March 1, 2024, school districts need to vote on whether they’ll permit the employment or volunteering of chaplains to provide support, services and programs for students. According to BJC’s statement released on Oct. 19, 2023, 11 school districts, among which 5 are from North Texas, have already rejected the proposal.
“Texas school districts are right to defend religious freedom by rejecting the opportunity to replace counselors with untrained and unlicensed chaplains,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC and lead organizer of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. “Make no mistake about it: this Texas law was pushed by a group wanting school chaplains to proselytize in public schools.”
As previously reported by Local Profile, chaplains found several issues with the legislation, from a lack of training requirements to funding coming from safety and security budgets. “Those funds are directed at — but not limited to — the roles of restorative discipline and justice practices, mental and behavioral health support, and suicide prevention, intervention and postvention,” states the letter. “We are deeply concerned about using chaplains in these roles to provide those services, particularly as the law does not require any specific training or qualifications.”
One of the first school districts in North Texas to reject the implementation of the law was Frisco ISD. During a regular meeting celebrated on Sept. 18, 2023, the board approved a resolution that prohibited campuses within the district from hiring or accepting volunteer chaplains.
“We fully support this course of action and we also appreciate the respect it shows for those educators who have become certified school counselors,” said in the board meeting Joseph Cruz, membership specialist for Frisco ISD and the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “We know that school districts face significant staffing challenges … we also know that at the same time, districts must ensure staff is well prepared, trained and certified to deal with complex emotional issues students bring to school every day.”
Shortly after, on Sept. 25, 2023, McKinney ISD’s board of trustees voted 6-1 to reject the policy, with only Trustee Chad Green supporting the implementation. “We need to have professional counselors counseling children,” said Board Vice President Amy Dankel, according to Community Impact. “Just like we need professional teachers teaching to the children [and] just like we need professional librarians filling the library with books. That’s what needs to happen.”
Dallas ISD also joined the districts opposing the policy, according to a post made on X by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas shared on Oct. 21, 2023. “We urge other public school districts to follow Dallas ISD's example.”
NOT IN OUR SCHOOLS: Dallas ISD has voted against placing unlicensed religious chaplains in its schools and forcing religion on its students.— ACLU of Texas (@ACLUTx) October 21, 2023
We urge other public school districts to follow @dallasschools's example. https://t.co/GAKcQC173e
According to Tyler, “As the parent of a child in a public school in Dallas, I hope more school districts will stop this government overreach into spiritual matters.”