May religious leaders provide crisis counseling to students in public schools?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

In times of sudden crisis (e.g., violent or accidental death of students or teachers), schools may call on a wide range of qualified counselors, including religious leaders, to assist school-employed counselors in helping children cope with the crisis at hand. Of course, religious leaders may not be the only grief counselors invited on campus during a crisis. Religious leaders may not otherwise be given routine access to students during the school day. Even when counseling to deal with a sudden crisis, religious leaders should remember that a public school is not a place for proselytizing or other overt religious activity.

To the extent that schools cooperate with adults who are important in a student's life (parents or other relatives, guardians, foster parents, social workers or neighbors) to help the child deal with school work, behavioral problems, or other issues, schools may also cooperate with an adult acknowledged by a student as his or her religious leader. However, a school may not in any way compel or coerce a student to speak to representatives of religious institutions.