The Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees voted 5-0 on Feb. 12 to affirm the district’s current policy that allows chaplains to volunteer in schools, but the board decided against adding chaplain positions to the district’s payroll. Trustees Natalie Blasingame and Christine Kalmbach abstained from voting on the measure.

How we got here

Senate Bill 763, which went into effect in Texas on Sept. 1, requires all public school boards to decide by March 1 whether they will permit the district to hire chaplains as district employees.

Texas public school chaplains can offer mental health support and behavioral health services where permitted, but they are not required to have the same certification and training traditional school counselors must have, Community Impact previously reported.

School safety has been a top priority for CFISD in the past decade, and district leaders have also highlighted the importance of mental health resources in schools.

The board decision puts them in compliance with the law as directed by the 88th Texas Legislature.

The details

General Counselor Marney Collins Sims presented the board with the administration's proposal on the two policies that were to be considered as part of the mandated state review—paid personnel and volunteers.
  • Personnel policy option A: Adding a new district policy that states that CFISD has chosen not to create a position of school chaplain.
  • Personnel policy option B: Adding a new section in district policy that creates the position of school chaplain.
  • Volunteer policy option A: Adding a new section to existing policy that states the district has not created a position for chaplains but will allow them to volunteer as mentors.
  • Volunteer policy option B: Adding a new section that states the district has not created a position for chaplains but will allow them to volunteer in potentially greater capacities than current policy states if approved by the board.
Offering input

Dozens of citizens addressed the board at the Feb. 8 and Feb. 12 meetings leading up to the vote, with a mix of support and opposition for hiring chaplains.

“After Thursday's meeting, it seems to me that the board intends to punt the issue and yes vote with the caveat that the board won't be adding new roles but rather changing the policy language,” CFISD parent and resident Dave Mahon said. “The very notion of school chaplains in our public—and therefore, secular—schools is constitutionally questionable at best. It's certainly un-American. Do the right thing, protect religious freedom, protect the parents' rights. Vote no.”

Lorena Garza, director of chaplain affairs with the National School Chaplain Association, supported chaplains in CFISD schools.

“Schools that employ chaplains ... [see a] drastic reduction in school violence, violence in the home, alcohol and drug consumption, and decrease bullying," she said. "Chaplains are there to work alongside the counselors to offer hope for the students and for the teachers. I myself have helped many students that are facing hard times. I'm glad that I have been there for them. Some of the problems that they have faced are beyond academics that they're facing at home.”

The action taken

Blasingame put forth a motion that would create official chaplain positions; however, the motion did not receive support from the board.

Trustee Justin Ray then motioned to adopt Volunteer policy option A—allowing the district to continue to allow clergy and nonclergy members to serve as mentors—which ultimately passed. The board removed the consideration of employing chaplains.

“I believe that it's in our best interest to continue having chaplains and people engaged in our community as volunteers and mentors,” Ray said.