Miami-Dade School Board members voice support for new law implementing chaplains on campuses

WSVN | By Joe Roetz, Chantal Cook | May

MIAMI (WSVN) – The Miami-Dade County School Board showed overwhelming support to implement volunteer chaplains in schools after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in Florida, despite criticism from some state lawmakers.

The school board on Wednesday advanced the idea to allow chaplains inside district schools to “provide additional resources to students.” Chaplains will need to pass a background check and have their name and religious affiliation listed on the school’s website.

“There is a need for another voice, not a voice for religion, but another voice to help our children be better citizens,” said board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.

According to the National School Chaplain Association, “School chaplains provide counsel, prayer, and spiritual care for school staff, students and families.”

The idea to have them in Miami-Dade public schools comes weeks after DeSantis signed HB 1317 into law, which would “enable schools to host chaplain programs and patriotic organizations on campus.”

“You got a lot of problems these kids go through, there are some students who, you know, they need some soul craft,” said DeSantis. “And that can make all the difference in the world.”

DeSantis said there are standards that need to be in place as well.

“Districts that have volunteer chaplains at their schools must have a list of all the chaplains on the district’s website, including the chaplains’ religious affiliations, and then parents can make their judgments on whether any of those fit the needs of their kids,” said DeSantis.

Florida State Sen. Lori Berman and other critics have cited several issues with the new Florida law, one being that there is no training requirements for chaplains.

“When you have a military chaplain, they go through intensive training, and they have to be in a position where they can provide information, which is factually correct and appropriate to the situation,” said Berman. “Let’s put the trained professionals in and not some unlicensed, untrained people with a religious affiliation.”

Board member Lucia Baez-Geller from District 3 opposed the plan, but she declined to tell 7News exactly why.

During the school board meeting, school board member Roberto J. Alonso said that chaplains will not replace school counselors.

“This program in no way, in no form is going to replace our school counselors,” said Alonso. “Quite the opposite.”

Now board members who are in favor are looking to avoid skepticism or concern by requesting further information from the state to keep the plan moving forward.

“Written legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General, as well as written guidance from the Department of Education to be contemplated, and feasibility and determination to be included in the report to the school board,” said board member Dr. Steve Gallon III.

Students can receive support if parents provide written consent, but the governor claims none would be forced to meet with a chaplain.

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