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New Florida law to allow public and charter school chaplains

kids guidance session

Ground Picture | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 05/02/24

The volunteer chaplain program, active or in development in 17 states, has been seen to help students' mental health, while stemming violence and bullying.

The State of Florida has joined a growing list of US states that are allowing their K-12 public and charter schools to run volunteer chaplain programs. These programs are said to bolster existing guidance programs while offering students additional “spiritual care” services, which have been seen to be a benefit to students’ mental health in schools that already run such programs. 

A press release from Liberty Counsel reports that the legislation, HB 931, sailed through the Florida House and Senate earlier this year with votes of 89-25 and 28-12, respectively. Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law, which is set to go into effect on July 1, 2024. 

The actual wording of the law will allow voluntary chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board or charter school governing board.” It stipulates that all chaplains who wish to volunteer must submit to a background check and the school must announce each chaplain’s religious affiliation. Furthermore, students who wish to participate in the volunteer chaplain program are required to obtain parental permission.

In his announcement, Governor DeSantis clarified that schools do “have a right” to offer chaplain services, as well as to allow them to operate on their campuses. He did, however, emphasize the voluntary nature of the program and assured that no one would be forced to participate. He compared the school chaplains to those of the armed forces, who offer “mentorship, counseling, and spiritual support,” on request. 

Liberty Counsel went on to note that The National School Chaplain Association (NSCA), which runs chaplain programs at more than 30,000 public schools in 23 countries, has seen great success with its programs. The NSCA reported that its chaplains have seen decreases in violence and bullying in schools where they are active, as well as lower dropout rates and higher teacher retention. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver commented: 

“Florida joins Texas as one of the first states in the nation to officially allow chaplains in public schools. Trained chaplains have been the traditional ‘spiritual’ first responders in our military, and they can make a positive difference in the lives of students and teachers. While the law does not stipulate any qualification requirements for the chaplains, school boards should be very selective in choosing trained chaplains with counseling and ministry experience.” 

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EducationLawUnited States
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