House Democrats Debate Bill Allowing Public Dollars for Chaplains in Public Schools

Thursday, 25 April 2024 12:32

House Democrats Debate Bill Allowing Public Dollars for Chaplains in Public Schools Featured

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Democrats opposed SB 36, which would allow chaplains to be hired or to volunteer in public schools as counselors. House Democrats debated against the bill, arguing public dollars should not be used for religious purposes and funding should go toward hiring trained mental health counselors instead.

The bill passed with 54 yeas 37 nays.

Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City debated against the bill.

“The State of Oklahoma has a critical shortage of trained mental health professionals in schools,” Dollens said. “Our former Superintendent requested funding for more trained mental health professionals in public schools for years, and each year this body rejected that request. We hear that mental health is a crisis in schools and the root of violence in schools, but when given the opportunity to invest in trained mental health professionals, we refuse to do it. This bill does not make sense when it comes to benefiting our public schools. It is a bill rooted in Christian nationalism.”

Rep. Jared Deck, D-Norman, also debated against the bill.

“I understand this bill says the chaplain is not allowed to proselytize in public schools, but it is not lost on me that it is the intent of the faithful to do just that,” Deck said. “This bill opens up a massive liability issue in schools and it is unfair to task a school board with handling this liability. This bill also gives these volunteers unfettered access to school children without parental consent. Parents can choose to opt-out, but only if they know that they can.”

Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, also debated against the bill, saying the services the chaplain is authorized to provide overlap with current school resource officer positions.

“Public dollars should not be used to fund religious purposes,” said Waldron. “It is unconstitutional and most Oklahomans believe public dollars should stay in public schools. We need to focus on funding for public schools that is proven to benefit students in their development and as they become adults. Chaplains in schools would not provide a service that any other school resource officer can’t provide besides confidentiality counseling. If counseling is what we need in public schools, let's hire trained mental health counselors in schools to do the job.”

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