The Dripping Springs ISD board of trustees discussed how to vote on a state-required item regarding chaplains in schools during a board meeting Jan. 22.

Trustees debated for about half an hour on the language of the resolution they would vote on.

The overview

Before March 1, Texas school boards are required to take a vote on how to apply Senate Bill 763 in their districts. While the DSISD board did not make any decisions during the meeting, they discussed how to implement the new law, which allows districts to employ chaplains to perform the duties of school counselors.

SB 763 also includes language in permitting chaplains to volunteer in other roles, and districts may choose whether or not to expand on current volunteering policies.

How it happened

District officials proposed a resolution that includes the following points:
  • Campuses may continue to accept chaplains as volunteers to provide support, services and programs to students in accordance with district volunteer policies.
  • Volunteer chaplains may provide mental health support, services and programs for staff in the event of a crisis.
DSISD parent Terri Purdy urged the board to not expand unnecessarily on district policy regarding chaplains during public comment.

“Having chaplains be allowed for staff support during a campus crisis is a very specific case, and I do think that while [the resolution] is very limited, it's still very vague,” Purdy said. “What is the campus crisis? What would these chaplains be doing?”

Members of the board expressed differing opinions Jan. 22, but agreed to update the language in the resolution to affirm the district’s current policies on volunteering.

“I think that we have a very well-functioning program with having the clergy of our community supporting in different ways, and now, there's all this questioning,” board member Mary Jane Hetrick said.

Some board members expressed that allowing staff to choose to confide in volunteer chaplains on campuses for support should be explicitly part of the district’s policy.

“We want more support for mental health on campuses, maybe in [crises] or want to at least hear how even our district is handling those situations, which could be a potential future conversation,” board President Stefani Reinold said.

Board members Shannon O’Connor and Kim Cousins said that mental health services should be left to those with specific credentials.

“I want licensed professionals for our staff, and I do not believe that it's appropriate to bring faith into the public school system,” O’Connor said.

Put in perspective

Officials from other school districts in the Austin region, such as Round Rock and Austin ISDs, decided to uphold current policies, which allow chaplains to volunteer in schools, but would not permit them to provide mental health services.

AISD officials emphasized that chaplains would not be hired for any mental health role except in cases when the individual meets the credentials for the position.

What’s next?

The district may take up the item at the next board meeting Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Center for Learning and Leadership, 300 Sportsplex Drive, Dripping Springs.

District officials will update the resolution and vote to approve it at the meeting or may postpone the vote for further consideration in February.

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