Humble ISD trustees discussed the possibility of employing religious chaplains to provide mental health services to students within the district during the Dec. 12 board meeting.

The overview

The option to employ chaplains comes following the passage of Senate Bill 763, which gives public school districts the option to hire or accept religiously affiliated chaplains as volunteers.

According to the bill, districts can use state funding otherwise designated for licensed counselors, social workers and police officers to employ unlicensed chaplains to provide mental and behavioral health services and oversee suicide prevention programs.

The bill requires school officials to hold a vote to determine whether their district will employ the use of chaplains by March 1.

What they're saying

While HISD trustees will not vote on the measure until a future meeting, several trustees expressed concern over replacing licensed counselors and social workers with chaplains.

HISD board President Robert Scarfo questioned whether chaplains who aren’t required to complete any training would be equipped to address the needs of the district’s students.

“One of the things that concerns me is the nonrequirement for specific training, whether it’s in suicide prevention, mental health or working with students,” Scarfo said. “I’m not saying some of these people wouldn’t have that, ... but those are the types of questions I’d be asking of anyone we’d be considering.”

Scarfo also said he was uncomfortable using state funding for chaplains when the money could be used to address other needs.

“If we were to fund three chaplains, that could be three police officers we can't fund because it’s coming out of the same pool,” Scarfo said. “To me, that’s problematic.”

Trustee Marques Holmes expressed concern over hiring religiously affiliated chaplains that may not hold the same beliefs as some of the students seeking their services.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, but I also have friends who are atheists, so we're going to have to have chaplains that are atheist, ... chaplains that are Buddhist or Hindu,” Holmes said. “We have to cater to every single student in this district.”

What’s next

Officials opted to send the item to the district’s advocacy committee to consider how other districts are moving forward and review potential financing options before voting on the matter. Trustees have until March 1 to decide whether the district will move forward with the use of chaplains.