Fort Bend ISD trustees voted 5-1 against implementing a chaplain program as proposed in Senate Bill 763 during the Feb. 26 board meeting.

SB 763, which passed in the 2023 Texas legislative session, mandates public school districts in Texas vote by March 1 on whether to adopt a policy to allow chaplains, or clergy, to volunteer or be employed as counselors by districts under Chapter 23 of the Education Code.

A closer look

At the Feb. 5 meeting, trustees noted that while volunteers are always welcome in the district, feedback from community members as to why the policy should not be implemented included:
  • Lack of funding provided by the state to hire chaplains
  • The burden on administrators to ensure chaplains were not preaching to students
  • Majority of area chaplains are Christian, while the district's students are religiously diverse
  • Constitutional rights of students and parents

In their own words

“I will definitely support the policy committee's recommendation to decline ... I would much rather spend the money as the money is available for counselors,” trustee Rick Garcia said in the Feb. 5 meeting.

Also during that meeting, trustee David Hamilton said the district was not declining volunteer assistance from clergy members; however, he said he believed an official title or capacity was too problematic to be considered.

“We do welcome people to volunteer from all faith backgrounds, and there's kind of a line in the sand as far as what you can do while you're at school. But up to a certain extent, if you want to consider yourself a chaplain, who is volunteering at our campus, from our perspective, you will be viewed as a volunteer,” Hamilton said.

What else

FBISD joins other Houston-area school districts that also declined adopting the policy, including Katy ISD, Cy-Fair ISD and Lamar Consolidated ISD.

The only member who did not comment in either the Feb. 5 or Feb. 26 meetings regarding the bill was trustee Sonya Jones, who was also the lone dissenting vote.