© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.
Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

A Florida chaplains bill is one stop away from the governor's desk

Senator Lori Berman asks questions about the bill during its second reading.
Danielle Prieur
Senator Lori Berman asks questions about the bill during its second reading.

The bill would allow religious chaplains of all denominations to act as counselors in K-12 schools in Florida.

A bill that would allow religious chaplains to act as counselors in K-12 schools is one step away from a vote in the Florida Senate, after passing in the Florida House.

Before it was moved to a third reading, senators debated the bill, and asked questions of its sponsor Republican Erin Grall.

Democratic Senator Lori Berman said she’s concerned the bill does not require these chaplains to have any kind of training before they work with K-12 students.

“Are you worried that not having any kind of training could lead to people providing inaccurate information that could actually even psychologically harm these students," asked Berman.

Grall said the chaplains would have to undergo background checks, and would be added to a public directory that would be open to community input and feedback.

She said ultimately parents would have to sign off on their children going to see one of these chaplains for counseling, and would get to choose the chaplain that best fit their child's needs.

“Some parents may choose this in lieu of a mental health counselor, or they may choose it in addition to a mental health counselor. The bill is silent as to that and would not prohibit any treatment with a mental health counselor in the schools," said Grall.

Next stop, the bill will get a final reading in the Senate, and, if approved, head to the governor’s desk.

Here's the transcript of the full debate between Senator Berman and Senator Grall:

Senator Berman: So is there any kind of training or requirement that the chaplain has to have to be able to counsel students?

Senator Grall: The bill does not prescribe that training, but merely sets forth the minimum requirements that the school district must meet in order to put a program in place.

Berman: Are you worried that not having any kind of training could lead to people providing inaccurate information that could actually even psychologically harm these students?

Grall: I'm not worried about the individuals that will participate in this program, because there is a requirement that they be background screened. There's also a requirement that their names and potential religious affiliations be posted to the website and the parent has to specifically choose the chaplain that their child has permission to visit with.

Berman: Just want to confirm that background screening is not the same as actual training to do the work. Is that correct?

Grall: Background screening is a component, a safety component that we find necessary in all of our schools and with people that work with vulnerable populations. So a level two background screen is that safety component, it does not necessarily relate to the training regarding chaplaincy, or counseling with regard to the services a chaplain may provide.

Berman: If a parent reviews a list of school chaplains and does not identify religiously with any one of them, can they request that a certain religion be added to the list?

Grall: There's nothing that would prevent a parent from requesting someone to participate in the program. The school district can't compel participation in the program. So if a parent realizes that deficiency, they could reach out to a potential chaplain that they think should participate and ask them to apply with the school district to participate in the program and be added to the list.

Berman: So are there any prohibitions on what religions can be part of this program? Specifically, if someone was a satanist, or satanic? I don't know how you pronounce it if that's correct or not. If someone was a satanic, could they be part of this program?

Grall: Because of the exercise, the free exercise of religion, this is not limiting to any specific religion and would allow any religion to participate in the program.

Read the bill below:

Copyright 2024 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur