School chaplain bill clears final Senate committee, will head to floor

Advocates say this will help students navigate the 'spiritual battlegrounds' of the K-12 system.

Parents may be worried about learning gaps after the pandemic in public schools, but legislators appear to be concerned with bringing preachers to the classroom.

A bill that would allow schools to have volunteer chaplains (SB 1044) advanced in the Senate Rules Committee, which will be the final stop for the GOP Sen. Erin Grall legislation before it hits the floor.

The measure would “authorize volunteer school chaplains to provide supports, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board or charter school governing board,” with districts implementing the chaplain proposal at their discretion.

Boards would have to determine to which programs and services chaplains would be assigned, would have to inform parents that chaplains be informed, and would have to get parental consent before chaplains interacted with students.

“Parents must be permitted to select a volunteer school chaplain from the list provided by the school district, which must include the chaplain’s religious affiliation, if any,” the bill reads, noting that the list must be published on the district website.

The League of Women Voters, the Democratic Women’s Club, and the Council of Florida Churches had representatives speaking in opposition to the bill before the committee moved it forward, amid concerns about nebulous standards for the chaplains and the potential for less orthodox religions, such as voodoo, to have exponents in schools.

A representative of the Christian Family Coalition lauded the legislation, meanwhile, given that schools are “spiritual battlegrounds.”

Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, supporting the bill, noted that the military and medical facilities have chaplains, and contended this was a way to help students who “need direction and reassurance.”

In her closing statement, Grall noted her bill established minimum standards for districts, with the community ultimately vetting the chaplains and with parents’ consent required before chaplain interaction.

Meanwhile, the House passed its own product by an 89-25 vote last week, moving a similar bill to the Senate iteration.

HB 931, sponsored by Republican Rep. Stan McClain and Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels, encountered Democratic resistance in the amendment process and ahead of the final vote, which Daniels addressed in a memorable floor debate.

“I am the opponents of this bill’s worst nightmare,” Daniels continued. “I cast out devils, I pray in tongues, I’m a Holy Roller. But nobody on this floor can ever say I tried to convert you. Jesus is too good to push down anybody’s throats.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski

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