Home Section Page
Classroom Curriculum Considerations
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Friday July 01, 2016
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
 Security code

When Parent/Guardians Oppose Your Classroom Curriculum
As part of your curriculum on celebrating differences, you’ve asked studetns to read the book “King and King,” which depicts same-sex marriage. Two sets of parents have told the principal they want their child to opt out of all future curriculum you offer. Must the principal comply?

Parents/guardians may ask that their child not be included in classroom curriculum lessons for fear they will be exposed to what they view as objectionable material. Usually this happens around lessons involving sexual orientation or sex education. Astute school counselors will educate themselves about the institutional and community standards and learn to predict and negotiate the political landscape. An undemocratic response can lead to mistrust and conflict, with students as the losers. The school counselor, as an advocate, will work to find a way to address concerns yet avoid bending to the will of a few. It helps to review potentially controversial material in advance with administrators to ensure their support and to plan a response to parents should concerns arise.

Although school districts and school counselors can make allowances and exceptions for parents/guardians who do not want their children to participate in certain topics, schools are not legally obligated to do so. In Parker v. Hurley, 2007, two families objected to their elementary school children’s curriculum, which used a book depicting single-parent families, a family with two dads and one with two moms and the book “King and King,” a story depicting a wedding scene between two princes. When the school refused to provide prior notice and refused to allow the parents to exempt their children from “instruction recognizing differences in sexual orientation,” the two sets of parents sued the school district.

In dismissing the case, Judge Wolf wrote, “Parents do have a fundamental right to raise their children. The Parkers and Wirthlins may send their children to a private school. … They may also educate their children at home. … However, the Parkers and Wirthlins have chosen to send their children to the Lexington public schools with its current curriculum. The Constitution does not permit them to prescribe what those children will be taught” (Parker v. Hurley, 2007). That dismissal was unanimously upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals (Parker v. Hurley, 2008).

In a separate case, parents weren’t allowed to opt their children out of a court-ordered anti-harassment training that the parents viewed as violating their religious rights. The training was judge-ordered because of widespread anti-gay harassment in the school. U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning wrote that students and staff have no religious right to opt out of such training since the training did not force students to change their religious views.

School counselors respect parents’ right to ask questions about curriculum work, but it is really up to the school district/administration, in collaboration with the school counselor, to determine if it’s imperative to the overall well-being of all students in the school that each child participates in the lessons. It becomes a more difficult decision to refuse a parent’s request when it involves value-laden issues; therefore, securing administration support in advance of this type of lesson is critical.
Districts may require parental notification or written permission for some topics. Notification may simply mean that the school counselor is giving notice of what will be taught and if anyone has concerns then they can contact the school counselor to request more information or to opt out.

Sensitive Information Revealed During a Lesson
A school counselor’s classroom curriculum lesson took an unexpected turn when students were asked to talk about a time when they felt sad. Cedric offered, “My dad just killed my mom and then killed himself.” The school counselor asked Cedric if he would like to share his story, at which time he graphically described for the school counselor and his classmates his parents’ murder/suicide. What is your reaction to this situation?

In this very real situation, it is probable but unfortunate that the school counselor didn’t know that Cedric, new to the school, had recently suffered such an unfathomable trauma. School counselors have to be ready with skillful responses when highly sensitive information is shared with peers and be able to divert the conversation without dismissing or devaluing the student’s response. Quickly the school counselor must honor Cedric with a sincere acknowledgement of how very sad he must be and then skillfully move the conversation to another student or topic. Cedric wasn’t developmentally able to understand the implications of sharing his story in front of his classmates. To do more than acknowledge Cedric opens him up to the possibility of bullying, curiosity seekers, isolation and/or regret that he shared his life so openly. Clearing the calendar and quietly bringing Cedric to the office for unconditional positive regard, helping him safely share his story and connecting him with resources for ongoing support would be important next steps.

Given the age and developmental levels of Cedric’s classmates who heard his story, it is a strong possibility that some of his peers might need support. The school would initiate a preconceived plan to contact each parent and let them know what transpired with suggestions on how to support their child. Follow up might also include how to help the class understand how to best support Cedric.
Predicting questions and spotting potential land mines is part of the overall preparation school counselors undertake when organizing their classroom curriculum.

Teachers as a Barrier to Classroom Curriculum
You have a teacher who has never allowed you to come into her classroom to deliver your curriculum. Your curriculum advantages students, and you are distressed that her students never get to benefit. How do you proceed?

Teachers’ motives might be to protect instructional time, but sometimes teachers may fear classroom visitors will learn of their failings. Politically astute school counselors will figure out how to frame their classroom curriculum lessons to connect them to the academic success equation. It is a reasonable and legitimate response for a teacher to be protective of classroom instruction time. Teaching is a demanding job, and teacher’s evaluations are more and more dependent on student success on high-stakes tests. It is also the skilled school counselor who will negotiate the political landmines to assuage the fears of those teachers who worry the school counselor might discover something negative about them or their classroom. It may be tempting to write off teachers who won’t let you into their classroom, but for students’ sake it is better to figure out how to keep the lines of communication open and to address whatever concerns the teacher has so you can deliver classroom instruction. Providing information to teachers in general terms about how the lesson will help their students and involving the teacher in determining or approving at least a portion of the content will go a long way in forming an ally for your program.

Classroom Curriculum as a Tier 1 Response to Intervention
You have been receiving referrals from quite a few teachers, each of whom complain of two or three students who aren’t completing work. You want to address their concerns, but with 17 students at issue coming from just two grade levels your schedule is squeezed. Can classroom curriculum help?

Using classroom curriculum as a response to intervention (RTI) tool places the school counselors squarely in the middle of the nature and function of schools. RTI has three levels of intensity. The school counselor’s research-based classroom curriculum to improve academic outcomes is an RTI Tier 1 approach aimed at benefitting all students and is an appropriate way as a first response to addressing the 17 chronic offenders. Tier 2 approaches are more intense, such as a behavior-management program or small-group counseling, and are probably more appropriate for the 17 underachieving students. However, casting a wider net around all students in classroom curriculum is efficient and may well reduce the number of chronic offenders from 17. For students who do not respond to Tier 1 or Tier 2, an even more individualized approach, such as one-on-one counseling, a Tier 3 intervention, may be needed.

Classroom Curriculum as a Vehicle to Identify High-Needs Students
During your classroom lesson you noticed that a student had constant facial tics. When you asked the teacher about Seth, she replied, “Oh that is just Seth’s idiosyncrasy.”

School counselors are trained observers, and sometimes during classroom curriculum they are able to identify students in need. The school counselor can see a student through fresh eyes and notice troubling behavior that may have become routine for a teacher. For example, in this real case, a school counselor observed a child who had signs of Tourette’s syndrome, but his parents and teachers wrote it off as “just his mannerisms.” No educator had ever asked them to discuss these “mannerisms” with their son’s pediatrician. In this case, the school counselor didn’t label or suggest a diagnosis but simply stated her observations and encouraged the parents to explore further with their medical professionals.

Skill Level in Classroom Curriculum
You are asked by a teacher to help the class deal with the terminal illness and imminent death of one of their classmates. You have had very limited training in grief counseling. What do you do?

Certain topics need an expert or specialist who has done intensive work on the subject and who stays abreast of the latest research on best practice in the area. In this actual case, the school counselor sought the help of her local hospice organization, which agreed to come in and provide classroom curriculum on several occasions before and after the student’s death. The school counselor knew she could seek training and probably conduct the lessons, but the skill level of the hospice staff was, in her judgment, far superior. Ethically she felt it was only right to reach out for more expertise where she lacked it while still staying involved and connected to the work being done in the classroom. Because of the sensitive nature of the lessons/discussion, best practice might be to notify the parents about the upcoming lesson and provide them with suggestions on how to follow up with their child at home.

Teacher’s Classroom Management
Over the course of time, you have learned a great deal about different teachers’ classroom management effectiveness. One particular teacher has a chaotic classroom, which has a negative impact on certain students. School administration seems to be unaware of her ineffectiveness in classroom management skills. What is your role if any in this situation?

The school counselor cannot afford to come across as an informant or align too closely with anyone’s “camp.’’ The school atmosphere is not unlike the United Nations, and in potentially divisive situations the school counselor thinks like an ambassador. Having a solid, professional relationship with the principal allows the school counselor to better benefit the students and teacher in this situation. Genuine respect for teachers’ difficult job goes a long way in becoming a trusted ally and pays huge dividends for students. School counselors who trust administration to handle information about teachers appropriately will feel more secure that shared information will be used to help the teacher make strides toward a better academic and social environment. If the school counselor is uncertain the principal will deal deftly with a delicate situation or fears the knowledge might be used as a hammer, another plan may have to be developed. The principal and the school counselor need a solid relationship built on mutual understanding of the need to protect each other’s positions with teachers.

Carolyn Stone, Ed.D., is a professor at the University of North Florida and chair of ASCA’s Ethics Committee. She can be reached at cstone@unf.edu.