Do Cy-Fair ISD Students Need Chaplains?

Bryan James Henry
6 min readJan 19, 2024

As many Texans are now aware, Republican state legislators passed and Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 763, which forces all school boards to vote on whether to allow chaplains to work in their public schools and act as counselors to their students. According to Texas Impact, an interfaith network, “The bill contains no requirements as to qualifications or oversight for chaplains, nor does it set out a clear, authoritative description of chaplain roles and responsibilities.” It is entirely up to school districts to devise the policy that would regulate the use of chaplains in public schools. SB 763 requires all Texas school districts to vote on the matter by March 1, 2024, which means the Cy-Fair ISD Board of Trustees will take up the matter in its February school board meetings.

So, not knowing what Cy-Fair ISD intends to do, nor what the details of any policy might be, is it reasonable to worry now? Yes. If the people who testified in support of the bill are any indication of how the law could be implemented in Cy-Fair ISD, then there is plenty to alarm parents. Who pushed for the passage of SB 763? The Texas Tribune reported on the influence of Rocky Malloy of the National School Chaplain Association. Malloy is also the founder of Mission Generation, whose website states: “Mission Generation has 20 years of experience bringing Jesus to the classrooms of public schools. The battle ground of the culture war is K-12 schools… Since the vast majority of school-aged children are unchurched, the only remaining solution [is] to reach children through school.” The National School Chaplain Association was instrumental in passing SB 763 so assumptions that supporters of the law may see chaplains as an opportunity to promote conservative Christian values in public schools are not unreasonable.

Texas Impact, which opposes SB 763, explains that “Chaplains are religious professionals that support the spiritual, emotional, existential, and religious needs of an individual that cannot otherwise access religious services in a pluralistic institution — such as the military, prisons, or hospitals. These religious professionals facilitate the religious free exercise of the individual.” Why would students need to have access to religious services in their public school? Students already have opportunities to participate in faith-based student organizations. Parents and legal guardians can already connect their children to the religious services of their choice within the community. In fact, after hearing so much about “parental rights” in the context of library books over the last few years, it seems that religious instruction would be near the top of the list of private things that public schools have no business interfering with. If parents should oversee their child’s education, as we’ve heard repeatedly, then surely their religious education is something that government and elected officials should not interfere with, influence, or control.

Who else testified in favor of SB 763? Julie Pickren, a far-right member of the State Board of Education who attended the political rally in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021, that ultimately ended in a violent attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. As previous reporting from the Texas Tribune and others have made clear, the push to bring chaplains into Texas public schools is part of a larger push by Christian Nationalists to erode the separation of church and state and promote conservative Christianity in the public sphere. The same Christian Nationalists who want to replace licensed school counselors with chaplains also want “In God We Trust” signs and the Ten Commandments displayed in every classroom. They are the same people who want public tax dollars (vouchers) to pay for tuition at private Christian schools.

Opposing far-right Christian Nationalists is not about opposing Christianity or conservatism. It is about standing up for basic American values like religious pluralism and doing what is best for all students in public schools. Displaying an “In God We Trust” sign on the wall of a classroom won’t improve reading or math proficiency, and chaplains won’t be able to reduce the anxiety, depression, and gun violence that American teens face today. Poverty, underfunding, social media, and easy access to firearms are real problems that “bringing God back into public schools” simply won’t solve. It is either a monumental lack of self-awareness or a deeply cynical zealotry that causes the same group of people who accuse educators of “indoctrinating” students with a “woke” progressive agenda to insist that their conservative Christian worldview be imposed on students in public schools.

One more notable individual testified in support of SB 763: Cy-Fair ISD trustee Dr. Natalie Blasingame. That’s right, the current Vice President of the Cy-Fair ISD Board of Trustees favors the idea of chaplains in public schools so strongly that she went to Austin on April 5, 2023, to testify in support of the bill. I can only assume that she will push aggressively to allow chaplains in Cy-Fair ISD schools. So, what does Blasingame and the other far-right Christian Nationalist trustees have in mind with SB 763? The community won’t know until the school board’s Work Session on Thursday, February 8. At that point, residents will have just a few days to sift through the details and communicate any feedback and objections via email or in-person at the school board’s Regular Meeting on February 12.

I have no doubt that some chaplains could be an asset to some under-staffed public schools and serve students in a fair and unbiased manner, but those most vocally in support of the new law have stated that they see it as a means to “bring God back into public schools.” As is so often the case, the Devil, or in this instance God, is in the details. Will parents be able to opt-out their children from interactions with chaplains? Will students have a choice between a chaplain and a licensed school counselor? How will Cy-Fair ISD guarantee that chaplains will not promote their personal religious beliefs when speaking with students? The National School Chaplain Association’s website states that its chaplains are, “Readied with a Biblical perspective…[whose] duties include but are not limited to prayer, counsel, and spiritual care.” If you’re a Cy-Fair ISD parent, imagine if your child received counseling from a chaplain without your knowledge and the chaplain had different views than your family about God, sin, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, abortion, etc.Imagine if the chaplain did not have the same training, certifications, or licenses as a school counselor. Imagine if the chaplain’s motivation for being in the school was to promote their faith. It isn’t hard to imagine any of this because that is what SB 763 allows and what the bill’s supporters had in mind when they testified in favor of the bill.

The question before the Cy-Fair ISD Board of Trustees in February is whether students in Cy-Fair public schools should be counseled by chaplains. The answer seems simple: No. Why?

Because Cy-Fair ISD already has highly trained school counselors.

Because Cy-Fair students reflect the religious diversity of America.

Because a pluralistic society like the United States has a tradition of separation of church and state that respects freedom of religion.

Because parental rights matter.

Christian Nationalism is a betrayal of Christianity and the ideals of American democracy. Normal Christians, conservatives, and Republicans don’t support Christian Nationalism. That is why those who do are rightfully called extremists. Many Christians are standing up and speaking out against Christian Nationalism. It remains to be seen how many extremists now sit on the Cy-Fair ISD Board of Trustees. The new board has a 6–1 supermajority of partisan trustees who proudly campaigned as conservative Republicans. Are they all Christian Nationalists? The community will find out soon enough, but residents should make their voices heard before the final vote is cast on February 12. Regardless of their political ideology or faith tradition, residents of Cy-Fair must mobilize to insist that parental rights, religious liberty, and separation of church and state be respected and defended.

If Cy-Fair ISD does intend to allow chaplains into its public schools, then residents must demand that the district formulate a policy that provides clear qualifications and oversight. Texas Impact has an excellent list of recommendations found here. Cy-Fair families need to be prepared in February to push back against the worst instincts and excesses of far-right Christian Nationalism and remind the trustees that the 2023 school board election was by no means a mandate for change. Cy-Fair is a diverse community and residents do not want religious or political bias to infiltrate the schools. There should not be a progressive or conservative agenda in Cy-Fair ISD. There should be non-partisan trustees who listen to and represent the entire community in all its diversity. There should be policies that serve and see all students. These are the values that Cypress Families for Public Schools stands for and we invite you to join us as we promote them more loudly than ever.