On Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis visited Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee and signed HB 931 and HB 1317 that, beginning July 1, will make it possible for schools to host chaplain programs and patriotic organizations on campus.

“Faith leaders and civic organizations are important additional resources for students who may be facing challenges or need to build community and camaraderie,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “I’m pleased to be able to expand the variety of options that students have at their disposal in school and we have no doubt that these options will enhance the experiences of our students.”

HB 931 introduces a comprehensive statewide school chaplain program. Under this new law, school districts and charter schools in Florida are authorized to appoint volunteer chaplains to offer counseling and other forms of support on campus. These chaplains, who will be assigned by the respective district school boards or charter school governing boards, aim to provide additional layers of emotional and spiritual guidance for students seeking support.

Importantly, the law stipulates that any student wishing to engage with a school chaplain’s services must have written consent from a parent, ensuring that families maintain oversight of their children’s participation in the program.

The second bill HB 1317 focuses on strengthening community ties and enhancing civic engagement among students. The legislation permits civic and patriotic organizations to access schools for the purpose of promoting participation in their programs. Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, The Boy Scouts of America, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Civil Air Patrol, Future Farmers of America, The Girl Scouts of the United States of America, Little League Baseball, The Marine Corps League, and The Navy Seal Cadet Corps are now encouraged to collaborate with schools to foster an environment of active community involvement and leadership among the youth.

Both bills are seen as steps forward in Governor DeSantis’s ongoing efforts to integrate comprehensive support systems into the educational framework, which not only provide necessary counseling and mentoring but also actively involve young individuals in community and national service initiatives.

These legislative measures reflect a dual approach to enhancing the educational environment in Florida by addressing both the internal support needs of students and the external engagement that helps cultivate well-rounded, civically active individuals.

“This legislation provides yet another option to serve all students in Florida,” said Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “Volunteer chaplains offer faith-based support and are uniquely suited to serve students and families throughout our state and I’m pleased that we are providing another valuable resource for our schools.”

Not everyone is excited about the idea. Recently, the ACLU expressed its strong opposition to the introduction of chaplains in public schools, a position detailed on its website. The organization argues that permitting chaplains to operate within public educational settings breaches the constitutional principle of church-state separation, claiming the move is unconstitutional. The ACLU has also urged school boards to reject school chaplain proposals.