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A bill allowing volunteer chaplains in Florida schools advances to Senate floor


After the House passed a companion measure, the Senate version received a final committee OK. Supporters say the proposal would add a tool to help address children’s mental health issues.

A bill that would allow school districts to authorize volunteer chaplains to provide “support, services and programs” to students in public schools is heading to the full Senate for a vote.

After about an hour of public comment, the measure was approved, 14-5, by the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. Five days earlier, the House passed its version (HB 931), 89-25.

Under the Senate proposal (SB 1044), school districts and charter schools could adopt policies to allow volunteer school chaplains, and the chaplains would have to meet background screening requirements.

The chaplains would provide supports, services, and programs to students as assigned by school boards, and parental consent would be required before a student could receive these support or services.

Supporters of the measure say allowing chaplains would add another tool to help schools address children’s mental health issues.

Opponents are worried about not requiring specific training for chaplains. Others have expressed concern related to First Amendment's Establishment Cause, which prohibits government from "establishing" a religion.

Russell Meyer, director of the Florida Council of Churches, addressed the committee before the vote. He opposed the bill as a clergy member and Christian.

“This is not a good idea. It will cause psychological and spiritual harm to students who are not of the persuasion of the volunteer chaplain. And volunteer chaplains don't have to have any training in human development and child development,” said Meyer.

John Labriola with the Christian Family Coalition, spoke in favor of the bill.

“Sometimes a child does need a spiritual counselor where they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a regular guidance counselor,” said Labriola.

The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor per 250 students. In Florida, it's one counselor to 436 children.

Health News Florida's Rick Mayer contributed to this report.