March 14, 2024

Sue Kingery Woltanski: Authorizing Chaplains In Florida’s Charter Schools

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Florida is one more state trying to sneak religion into school by authorizing chaplains. Sue Kingery Woltanski looks closer. Reposted with permission.

Last month, the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Education met and approved SB1044, Senator Erin Grall’s (R-29) “School Chaplains” bill. The bill moves on to the Senate Rules committee. The House companion, HB 931, is ready for a floor vote.

In case you missed it, it was Senator Grall who successfully “championed” such bills as

  • 2021’s HB241 – “Parental Bill of Rights,” which empowered Moms For Liberty
  • 2022’s HB1557 – “Parental Rights in Education” aka “Don’t Say Gay”
  • 2023’s SB1674 – “Safety in Private Spaces” aka “The Bathroom Bill”
  • 2023’s SB300 – “Heartbeat Protection Act” aka “Six Week Abortion Ban”

I previously wrote about the School Chaplain bills (“Will Florida Be Celebrating School Chaplains During Next Year’s National School Counseling Week?“) and was concerned that such use of chaplains would result in cash strapped districts choosing to rely on volunteer chaplains rather than qualified school counselors and mental health professionals. On re-reading the bills, there is one detail I failed to consider… charter schools.

SB1044/HB931 authorize each school district or charter school to adopt a policy to authorize volunteer school chaplains to provide supports, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board or charter school governing board. Will Florida’s charter schools capitalize on the use of chaplains to counsel their students? I suspect some charters are anxiously waiting for the bills to pass and have chaplains waiting to serve.

As public-education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in the preface to the Network for Public Education’s report, “A SHARP TURN RIGHT: A New Breed of Charter Schools Delivers the Conservative Agenda,” there is a new breed of charter schools, expanding in Florida, with deep religious connections, and they are part of an effort to dismantle public education, itself:

“This new report, A Sharp Turn Right, exposes yet one more problem — the creation of a new breed of charter schools that are imbued with the ideas of right-wing Christian nationalism. These charter schools have become weapons of the Right as they seek to destroy democratically governed public schools while turning back the clock of education and social progress by a century.

The report carefully lays out the case that the new breed of charter schools is designed to attract families with Christian nationalist beliefs. They have student bodies that are whiter and wealthier than other charter schools and district public schools. And it exposes how, despite prohibitions on teaching religion in charter schools, such schools have deep connections with the conservative Christian movement and, in some cases, conservative Christian private schools.”

I encourage you to read the full report. The concept of religious charter schools (an idea that divides the charter school movement, itself) is currently being tested in the courts (read about herehere and here). Florida appears to be moving forward as though SCOTUS has already settled the issue.

We should expect Florida’s politically-connected, quasi-religious classical charter schools to take full advantage of their ability to have chaplains serving their student body… we should expect Florida to continue to chip away against the wall between church and state in our public schools… and we should recognize this as part of a political agenda to dismantle locally governed public schools…

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