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Published on December 13, 2023
Keller ISD Approves Chaplains in Schools, Stirring Community Debate on Religious Presence in Public EducationSource: Google Street View

Temperatures ran high at the Keller ISD board meeting as trustees voted to allow chaplains to serve in schools, sparking concern among parents and community members. The contentious decision was part of a statewide policy under a new Texas law that grants religious leaders more freedom in schools—a move that has some parents threatening to pull their children from the district.

Heated debates erupted at the meeting, with one speaker warning, "You are going to see an exodus of students, families, and teachers." The law in question allows volunteer chaplains to provide services to students as directed by the board, potentially opening doors to religious influence in public school settings. Critics suggest that these unlicensed chaplains could begin to outnumber the counselors, despite Keller ISD board members' insistence that counselors would not be replaced, according to FOX 4 News.

In an attempt to clarify the decision, the Keller board president was quoted as saying, "This idea the board has cooked up some sort of secret language in order to hoodwink the community into piping in chaplains who would then take the jobs of our counselors is patently false. We are talking about volunteers, we are not talking about replacing any of the counselors", per FOX 4 News.

Meanwhile, over at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, the situation echoed Keller's, but with an emphasis on ensuring chaplains would not abruptly replace qualified school counselors. A trustee was quoted stating emphatically, "Just because you are a chaplain, that does not qualify you to be a counselor. We will hire counselors based on the certifications and requirements just as we always have", per NBC DFW.

The Keller ISD meeting climaxed with a school board trustee walking off stage and announcing her resignation, while the board president had to eject parents for being disruptive. A stark reminder that the debate over religion's role in public education is as alive as ever. A district spokesman sought to soothe worried parents by clarifying, "While SB 763 allows a school district to employ chaplains if it chooses to adopt such a policy, that’s not what Keller ISD’s adopted resolution allows, and the Trustees were clear about that this evening," as per NBC DFW.

The Jewish community, along with about 100 chaplains, has been strongly opposed to this legislation. However, the Union for Reform Judaism has acknowledged the policy adopted by GCISD as one of the best they've seen in Texas. The National School Chaplain Association supported the Texas law, saying that school chaplaincy programs follow specific regulations that prohibit proselytizing.