TALLAHASSEE — A House committee on Tuesday, Jan. 30, approved a proposal that would allow school districts to authorize chaplains to provide services to students, putting the bill in a position to be considered by the full House.
Under the measure (HB 931), school districts and charter schools could adopt policies that would authorize volunteer chaplains to offer “support, services and programs” for students.
The House Education and Employment Committee voted 15-4 to approve the bill, with four Democrats opposed.
Tuesday’s at-times tense committee meeting included ministers arguing on each side of the issue.
The Rev. Candace McKibben, pastor of Tallahassee Fellowship, called the measure “spiritual malpractice.” McKibben argued, in part, that volunteer chaplains at schools might not have the qualifications of what she referred to as professional chaplains.
“Professional chaplains learn to work with those whose beliefs and spiritual needs are different from their own as they navigate complicated interfaith relationships. Professional chaplains promote religious freedom and respect for all religions, and no religion,” McKibben said.
Rep. Chase Tramont, a Port Orange Republican who is a pastor and member of the House committee, said removal of religion from schools has had a negative effect on students.
“The stripping away of any mention of God in our public schools has been going on for decades now. Which just so happens to coincide with the possibly irreversible decline of the health, safety and well-being of our children and society as a whole,” Tramont said.
Other supporters of the bill said it would give school districts the choice to authorize chaplains. School boards would be required to vote on whether to adopt a chaplain policy by Jan. 1.
Policies adopted by school districts would have to meet various requirements, including providing a description of “the supports, services or programs that volunteer school chaplains may be assigned.”
“Any school district that adopts a volunteer school chaplains policy must publish the list of volunteer school chaplains, including any religious affiliation, on the school district's website,” the bill said.
Written parental consent also would be required before students could receive services from school chaplains.
“Parents must be permitted to select a volunteer school chaplain from the list provided by the school district, which must include the chaplain's religious affiliation, if any,” one part of the proposal said.
Volunteer chaplains would have to meet background screening requirements for people who have direct contact with students, according to a House staff analysis of the bill.
Bill sponsor Stan McClain, R-Ocala, touted that the proposal would allow chaplains of any faith and that districts would be able to craft their own policies.
“That is what I’m trying to leave open, is the diversity in how these programs would be put in place,” McClain.
An identical Senate bill (SB 1044) has not been heard in committees.