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Ohio Proposes Permitting Public School to Allow Chaplains as a Part of Counseling Services

'Whatever works that’s ethical should be available,' said state Representative Gary Click

Republicans in Ohio have proposed allowing school districts to allow volunteer chaplains to help fill gaps in student support roles.

Chaplains would be permitted to offer their services “in addition to, but not in lieu of” a school counselor.

“Whatever works that’s ethical should be available,” said state Representative Gary Click, per USA Today.

Members of the Ohio General Assembly introduced House Bill 240 which would allow school districts to “employ or accept as a volunteer a chaplain to provide support, services, and programs for students.” The chaplain would not be required to apply for a license or certification but would need to submit their criminal records to the state board of education. They would also need to register with the department during their time with the school.

“If the department receives notification of the arrest or conviction of an individual subject to this section, the department shall promptly notify the school district or school” and take any legally permitted action deemed necessary, according to the law.

“This legislation simply allows schools to employ a chaplain to serve its students,” said state Representative Reggie Stoltzfus, a Republican who sponsored the bill, per Local 12. “The decision to do so will be left up to the schools.”

Other lawmakers are concerned about bringing adults who are not licensed by the state’s education authorities into schools.

“This proposed legislation is a vague overreach that allows unlicensed, untrained people to push agendas on our children instead of providing them the mental health care they deserve,” state Representative Casey Weinstein told a local news station. “Ohio’s kids should have the right to receive the best care from qualified professionals.” 

An Ohio LGBTQ publication, The Buckeye Flame, said that “without a doubt, more school counselors are needed” in the state – citing an American School Counselor Association statistics that said there is one school counselor for every 400 students in the state. (The organization recommends a ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students.) However, The Flame question the oversight the chaplains would be subject to and warned that “deploying traditional Christian chaplains into schools invites potential abuse of non-Christian students, of LGBTQ+ students, and even of more progressive Christian students.”

“Christianity continues to be weaponized in the United States as it joins its misanthropic bedfellows, white supremacy and nationalism,” wrote The Flame.

The ASCA says school counselors “help students form healthy goals, mindsets and behaviors” and can advise for academic planning, work with students who have disciplinary problems, provide short-term individual and group counseling sessions, and interpret student records. The organization says school counselors should not assign disciplinary consequences or provide long-term counseling to address psychological disorders.

A similar proposal was passed in Texas earlier this year and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in June. Under Senate Bill 763, Texas schools can use safety funds to employ chaplains to offer mental health services to students. The chaplains do not need to be licensed by the State Board for Educator Certification but must have similar accreditations to military or prison chaplains, according to Fox 4 News. The employed and volunteer chaplains are not permitted to try and convert students from one religion to another and students must receive parental consent to meet with a chaplain.

The school must also provide chaplains from whatever faith or denomination requested by a student. Schools have until March 1, 2024 to vote on adopting their own policy on school chaplains. 

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the law, telling the Texas Superintendent and school board members in a June letter  that “hiring or otherwise allowing chaplains in public schools would  amount  to  state-sponsored  religion  and  lead  to  religious  proselytization  and  coercion  of students, as well as other violations of the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.”

“The primary role of chaplains is to provide pastoral or religious counseling to people in spiritual need,” wrote the ACLU. “Allowing them to assume official positions — whether paid or voluntary — in public schools will create an environment ripe for religious coercion and indoctrination of students.”

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