Schools consider a chaplain program

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

A video camera and a digital camera are available for Clovis’ public school teachers to use in the classroom. A tag dangles from the cameras telling students where they came from: Faith Christian Family Church.

Community churches often donate school supplies — backpacks, pencils and crayons — to Clovis’ students in need; in return, the students write thank-you notes to the churches.

School officials say churches have come to them offering help on many occasions and the relationship between Clovis’ schools and Clovis’ churches has been close for years. Now the school system is looking into starting a chaplain program in which area ministers would volunteer to help families in need.

“(The) ultimate goal is to serve the needs of our students, our families, our faculties,” said Cindy Martin, director of the Clovis Municipal Schools Instructional Resource Center. Martin is also coordinator of the district of Clovis Municipal Schools Strategic Planning Team.

Martin said the chaplain idea was brought up by community members of the Strategic Planning Team, a group of community and school representatives who design plans intended to maximize educational opportunities in Clovis.

While it’s still in the planning and investigation stages, Martin said the chaplain program could offer a counseling and service options to families associated with the schools. Now, school officials direct families in need to school counselors or other government officials.

Though Martin said the schools have little information on the proposal, she said she doesn’t see any separation-of-church-and-state issue.

“Basically, it will be somebody walking up to me and saying, ‘I need a minister,’” Martin said.

Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn, who is chief council for the West Texas Center for Human Rights, disagrees.

“If they do this right, it will be ‘legal’,” he said. “It violates the spirit of the law.”

Martin said the committee plans on setting guidelines to ensure no laws are violated if the chaplain program is implemented.
One of the suggested restrictions is that ministers could not “preach” to the families. “This is an opportunity to help someone in need,” Martin said.

She emphasized that ministers would only be called if requested by a family in need.

“Remember that this is an option that’s offered out of many options, so, they don’t have to choose this option.” Martin said.

“They’re not preaching to them. They are offering help to individuals that have chosen that path.”
Blackburn said the idea blurs the line between government and religion.

He said mixing religion with schools is of particular concern because attendance at public schools is mandatory.
But Martin said the proposal would only help families in need, not bring religion into schools.

“We are in the stages of developing another resource to assist our families, our children and our staff, and we’ll have another option for people who are in need,” she said.

Martin said a subcommittee of the Strategic Planning Team is investigating the project. If it finds enough community support for the program, a plan may be presented to the team in April for implementation in the next school year.

“It’s in such early stages, we have very little information about it,” Martin said.