The Leander ISD board of trustees voted against employing or accepting chaplains as volunteers “to provide support, services and programs for students” at a Nov. 30 meeting, according to the resolution. The district will continue providing counseling services through certified school counselors and credentialed mental health specialists, the resolution states.
The decision comes in light of a new state law allowing chaplains to serve in roles similar to school counselors and provide mental health services. The law requires school districts to vote whether to employ chaplains or allow them to volunteer by March.
While the law was intended to aid districts amid staffing shortages, LISD will continue to rely on its counseling staff, LISD Chief Communications Officer Crestina Hardie said. The policy does not prevent a chaplain from serving as a typical volunteer, she said.
“The district feels it can support students adequately with existing staff and its staffing model,” Hardie said.
The district had over 100 school counseling staff members, and 44 school psychologists and interns this fall, district officials said at a Nov. 9 board of trustees meeting. Across the district, there was one school psychologist available for around every 1,000 students and one school counselor for every 360-460 students, depending on the campus, officials said.
What community members are saying
Some district parents spoke in support of the resolution at the Nov. 30 meeting, citing concerns that chaplains were unqualified to provide mental health services and would impose religious beliefs on their children.
“Chaplains do not possess the skills or experience necessary to provide mental health services to children nor should they be expected to,” LISD parent Tanya Lavelle said. “Chaplains play an important role in the religious community, but this does not and should not extend to our schools.”
No one at the meeting spoke in favor of having chaplains serve as school counselors.