Ethical Ramifications of Policy Making
Author(s): Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC
May 1, 2008
Q: In my school we have a policy in place to charge students money for schedule changes. Although this policy has been in practice for some time, I wonder about the ethical implications of it.
A: This is a practice I haven’t come across before and one that calls for a closer look. As a former middle school and high school counselor, I certainly remember the tedious, never-ending schedule changes. Oftentimes it seemed that changing schedules was all we had time to do. Some of the reasons for the schedule changes were silly, and the amount of time consumed doing the changes was frustrating. While charging the students to change their schedules may seem like a way to mitigate the numerous schedule changes, there are many ethical issues to consider before implementing this type of policy. A few to consider are:
• Is this practice or policy equitable for all students?
• What accommodations are made for students who can’t afford to pay for a schedule change?
• Could this affect a student’s ability to receive a valuable and rigorous curriculum?
• What are the unintended consequences?
• For whom is the policy put in place – students or professional educators?
• What is the ethical responsibility of the school counselor when it comes to making and implementing policy?
The first paragraph of the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors states, “Professional school counselors are advocates, leaders, collaborators and consultants who create opportunities for equity in access and success in educational opportunities by connecting their programs to the mission of schools and subscribing to the… tenets of professional responsibility.”
One of the identified responsibilities includes advocacy for students. Students have the right to receive the information and support needed to move toward self-direction and self-development with a focus given to underrepresented populations including low socio-economic students. In making this policy decision, the ethical conundrum then arises about how this policy will fit into the directive of student advocacy and maintaining our professional ethical and moral principles.
If this policy continues, how do the moral principles of the school counseling profession factor into the decision? Thus, is the beneficence of continually seeking ways to provide student success going to be executed with this policy? Can the principle of loyalty for student advocacy to make systemic change for the benefit of the students be part of this policy? How is social justice in treating students based on their unique needs a consideration for this decision?
As we create policies using ethical decision making, we must take into consideration the unintended consequences regarding social justice, and equity must be part of the equation. Decisions negatively affecting students who are already coping with educational inequities are not ethically sound decisions. When educational policies are enacted, school counselors, as part of that decision-making body, must be vigilant for unintended inequities that may affect students. Accommodating the needs of under-represented youth must be in the forefront of the minds of the policy makers if education is to bridge the achievement gap.
Inequities in education are currently a focal point of educational reform. As proponents of educational reform and educational equity, school counselors must evaluate any policy implementation that might inhibit students’ access to educational success.
Rhonda Williams, Ed.D., LPC, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the chair of ASCA’s Ethics Committee. She can be reached email@example.com.
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