Bill would let Iowa public schools bring in chaplains as counselors

DES MOINES — Iowa’s public schools would have the option of having a paid or volunteer chaplain on staff if a bill being considered in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Pastor Mike Demastus  of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ says it could help schools address mental health issues among students and staff. “One of the biggest concerns that we have is school safety and being able to head off at the pass, seeing warning signs with students who are exhibiting behaviors that might be concerned,” Demastus says.

Chaplains would have to pass a background check, but schools would not be allowed to require any kind of licensing or professional credentials for chaplains.

Eric Johnson directs the chaplain program at Unity Point Health in Des Moines and his hospital chaplains undergo a year of clinical training “To believe that the same wouldn’t be required ­- maybe different training, but the same oversight and certification – for vulnerable children experiencing distress feels a bit reckless to me,” Johnson said.

Last year, the state of Texas passed a law letting public schools use safety funds to hire people to be chaplains, who provide mental health counseling to students. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas says courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional to invite religious leaders into public schools to engage in prayer and religious counseling with students.