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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Public school chaplain bill passes Florida Legislature

a female sits with hands folded as a male counselor takes notes
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The bill will likely allow school districts and charter schools to adopt policies letting volunteers to serve as a chaplain, or a religious representative, to students.

Religious chaplains will likely soon be permitted to act as school counselors in K-12 schools in Florida.

The Florida Senate approved a bill Thursday that lets school districts and charter schools adopt policies allowing volunteers to serve as a chaplain, or a religious representative, to students. The House approved the bill last month.

All chaplains would be listed in a document sent to parents with their religion included, and parental consent would be required before a student could meet with a chaplain.

Democrats opposed the bill on the Senate floor, citing concerns that the it would place religion into public schools, violating separation of church and state.

Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) says religious activity should be something that happens outside of school.

“I went to Hebrew school after school. There was no mention of anything religious during the day. And that is our choice as a family to do or not to do," Polskey says. "We are already funding religious schools with our voucher money. When is enough, enough?”

Sen. Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville) disagrees. He argues since parents must give permission for their children to meet with a chaplain, that doesn't violate requirements for the separation of church and state.

“There is not a forcing of participation. If parents don’t want their child to participate, they don’t have to," Yarborough says. "So, I see it as a balanced way to go about this."

The bill will become law on July 1, 2024 if it is not vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.