On Monday, the Katy Board of Trustees voted to approve a resolution that blocked enforcing a law that would have allowed the district to hire or permit chaplains to volunteer in religious capacities.

The resolution initially proposed by board president Victor Perez after last week’s workshop meeting passed on a 5 to 2 vote with Perez and trustees Dawn Champagne, Mary Ellen Cuzela, Rebecca Fox and Lance Redmon in support of it.

Trustees Morgan Calhoun and Amy Thieme opposed the resolution, voting in favor of adopting a measure from Senate Bill 763, which gives authority to public school districts to employ these religious leaders or have them provide additional services on a volunteer basis.

The bill does not include any restrictions on what chaplains could teach when working with students in the district. Before it became a law, an amendment would have prohibited proselytizing while serving in these roles, but it failed to garner any support.

According to Thieme, while teaching the district, assuming the role of a chaplain helped her instruct her students who were struggling to learn math. She said that she never once inappropriately shared her religious beliefs.

Thieme added that having chaplains at campuses across the district would provide additional support for the students and assist teachers and overburdened counselors, “I think this is a way that we can help them enjoy their jobs more and be more successful,” she said.

Fox corrected Thieme, pointing out that she was not serving as a chaplain because she was not certified to be a chaplain. Instead, Fox said Thieme was mentoring her students and added that the district could benefit from more mentors.

Fox brought up Katy ISD’s KEYS Mentor Program, which focuses on facilitating a relationship between students and mentors who participate in it. She added that the already-established program improves attendance, grades, morale and the overall disposition of those involved.

“I believe the policies and practices that we currently have serve our students in the same way that a chaplain policy per se would,” Fox said.

Cuzela echoed Fox’s remarks, encouraging chaplains interested in working with the district to redirect and participate in the mentorship program.

Fox said her concern with adopting a measure that would allow chaplains to serve in roles specifically for religious figures is the inability to control what religious sects would be represented.

Thieme pressed Fox, asking what “dark religions” she referred to as not belonging in the district’s schools, to which Fox said Satanists and Wiccans.

“It won’t be the religions of families or the faith that families embrace in their homes. You wouldn’t be able to guarantee what faith — what beliefs — and I think that a parent’s right is to teach the faith they want in their homes,” Fox said.

“I just see the risks involved in a public school system with a diverse school district to write a policy. I don’t see the legal feasibility there,” Cuzela added. “Of yes these, no those, that is a tricky situation and would become a game of whack-a-mole, and to write a policy like that would not be a good policy.”

Perez also took issue with the legal ramifications of adopting a policy in a district as religiously diverse as Katy ISD and parents’ right to make decisions regarding religious exposure for their kids.

“As I stated before, spiritual formation and religious training are the responsibility of parents and their churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples; that’s the parent’s right, and we cannot expect the schools to take over parenting,” Perez said.

“I want to make sure that the parents are not in any way a step behind or removed from what’s going on in your child’s school, where there may be potentially unintended consequences with placing an adult that establishes a private relationship or private conversation with a child,” he added.

Perez said his stance regarding chaplains was consistent with his conservative values and position on prior policies, such as the district’s gender fluidity policy, which requires the district to share with parents if their child chooses to go by a different name or pronouns.

Calhoun chimed in on the ongoing discussion before the vote to express her approval of chaplains acting as the bridge in gaps of additional student support.

Calhoun said she would have benefitted from seeing one of these religious figures during high school. She said she could resonate with the community members who spoke during public comment and wanted chaplains at schools in the district to help them or their children through tough times.

“I did see a counselor and a counselor is not a therapist,” Calhoun said. “And, although the counselor at the time, I’m sure she meant well, didn’t help.”

Many critics of the law take issue with it opening up the door for chaplains to assume these positions due to their lack of proper training or licensing and certification by the State Board for Educator Certification.

Jarred Burton, a junior at Tompkins High School and president of the school’s sexuality and gender alliance club, spoke out against these religious figures acting as mental health providers.

Burton said he had attended each board meeting since chaplains became a topic of conversation, and before Monday night, he had seen only one person speak out in support of them.

Burton added that countless students, people of faith, and chaplains had opposed the district’s possible adoption of a policy allowing these religious figures to be employed or serve as volunteers in spiritual capacities.

Last year, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty compiled a letter to Texas public school boards containing more than 100 chaplains’ signatures demanding the separation of church and state.

Burton asked Thieme what the chaplains could provide that would benefit students more than what counselors could provide if they were prohibited from discussing religion, as she mentioned previously during the workshop meeting.

“Our students do not need religious chaplains, not now, not ever,” he said.

Shannon Petersen, a high school counselor, said the trustees are neglecting the bill’s actual language, which states that the district may employ a chaplain instead of a school counselor to perform the duties required of a counselor.

Petersen said 45 hours of her schooling for her master’s degree was devoted to studying psychology, mental health counseling and ethics. She also spent hundreds of hours learning from experienced school counselors.

“The fact that we continue to debate the merits of hiring a school chaplain, whether you add certifications and provisions in a policy or not, to replace a school counselor’s role is a slap in the face to hundreds of school counselors the school district employs,” Petersen said.

“The discussions around hiring a potentially uncertified and unlicensed position to handle the one part of my job that I have the most education for tells me that some on this board hold little value for my expertise and training,” she added.

Faith Bugenhagen

Source link

You May Also Like

Spring Branch ISD eliminating 304 positions due to budget cuts for 2024-2025 school year

SPRING BRANCH – Spring Branch Independent School District has started Phase III…

RodeoHouston sets another all-time paid attendance record with return of Jonas Brothers

The Jonas Brothers’ return to RodeoHouston broke the all-time paid rodeo/concert attendance…

Alperen Sengun Avoids Serious Injury After Fall in Sacramento

The sight of Rockets rising star Alperen Sengun being wheeled off the…