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Change Must Happen: The ASCA Ethical Standards Guide the Way
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Wednesday July 01, 2020
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight

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Once again, our nation is stunned and emotionally exhausted from another senseless killing. George Floyd should be with us today. How do we explain his death to our students? We tell the truth. We must not dismiss George Floyd’s murder as an isolated incident done by bad people. Just as we must not dismiss the killing of so many other Black people. There is too much overt and covert killing of spirit, body and soul for our students of color to say this is not a widespread problem. Racism is a blight on the soul of our country. How do we, as school counselors, help eradicate this cancer? 

Our students watched George Floyd’s murder. If we were jarred with a punch to the gut, brought out of our chair with a jolt of outrage, imagine how devalued our students of color must have felt. Change must happen. We must do everything and anything we can to make certain each and every student in our charge is affirmed, treated with dignity, respected and has a real chance at a future free of inequality (ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors, Preamble, A.1.f., A.10.a.). 

School counselors are good people, but as ASCA assistant board chair Tinisha Parker, Ph.D., said, “We have to be more than good people.” School counselors have to be committed to the ethics of our profession, which implore us to advantage each and every student in our charge. Indeed the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors explain “all students” means all and directs us line after line to make it a nonnegotiable to close gaps (A.3.c., A.3.d., A.4.c.), promote equity of opportunity (Preamble, A.3.b., A.10.f.), work on our own multicultural and social justice awareness (B.3.e., B.3.i., A.6.e.), provide leadership for an inclusive school (B.2.m.), ensure equity of resources (A.14.f., C.b.), collaborate with others to ensure bright futures (A.3.a., A.6.a.), provide culturally sensitive materials (A.13.a., A.13.f., A.13.h.), engage with parents/guardians in a culturally responsive way (B.2.j, B.2.p.) and promote equity and access (B.2.o.). 

We can use these ethical standards as leverage when others try to quiet our voices or tell us this isn’t a school counseling issue. After all, even our courts of law bow to the value and power of ethical standards. 

Should children live in warlike conditions? When children continually see or hear about people who look like them being brutalized, those incidents can constitute adverse childhood experiences. Trauma exposure causes our students to lose out on learning. Racial trauma or repeated examples of brutality because of skin color is a health problem for our Black students and can only be described as devastating to their emotional and mental well-being. This student trauma may sometimes be invisible to educators, but it will manifest itself in some way. An abundance of evidence shows exposure to violence, trauma and fear has a profound influence on the developing brain and can change a child’s physical and emotional health into adulthood. 

We must become co-conspirators, sometimes leading the effort, sometimes being the good foot soldier but always in the thick of the urgency for change. Our fellow educators give school counselors much liberty to speak from a position of passion and heart; it is almost expected of us. It’s time for us to all find our soapbox. The high standard of care we must exercise in our work makes us ideally situated and ethically bound to bring a call to action in our schools and communities (B.3.g.). Let us be bold.

Action can take many forms. We can help build students who are better informed about what social justice really means. We can use our platform to help students understand and mutually respect each other. We can be a voice to provide inspiration and passion for a better school and larger community. Education in the form of classroom curriculum can bring about needed change. Make your school an institution of social justice in action. Boldness has never been more needed and more critical for our students’ future. 

Bring new voices to the conversation through guest speakers, distinctively different career fairs, classroom lessons and parent exchanges. Facilitate dialogue on the topics of race, justice and equity. Provide culturally sensitive opportunities for parents to be engaged in creating a safe, respectful school environment (B.1.d.)

Overt racism is easier to respond to than the more insidious covert kind. An overt example was dropped on one of my Black students in her internship while in a team meeting with four Caucasians. One teacher pulled a book off the shelf about an African American alphabet and mockingly said, “What’s this? A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for chitlins.” Hurtful, racist behavior. The scary part is this teacher is in a classroom with 25 impressionable students, and if she would make such racist remarks in a professional meeting, what might she say in front of 25 third-graders? The intern and her site supervisor reported the ugliness to the administration, and the intern was moved to another school of her choice the same day. Here were two professionals finding and feeling their way, yet both had the strength of conviction to confront racist behavior (D.d.). 

Ferret out systematic racism (B.2.g., B.2.i., B.2.r., B.2.s., C.e., C.f.). A May 2020 Office of Special Education infographic continues to show the trend of overrepresentation of Black students in special education. Black students are disproportionately identified as emotionally disturbed. Rates of classifying Black students as having emotional disturbances is twice the national average. 

This problem of the over-identification of Black youth is not new. In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce held a special hearing concerning the level of incidence of Black boys being placed in special education. Considering that only 27% of Black male special education students graduate from high school, the overuse of special education as an intervention is a systemic problem. It is, however, one school counselors can contribute to changing. Special education is not the only prognosis for success. Many students could avoid special education placement with better interventions and different interactions. School counselors can help teachers implement interventions that are not as restrictive as special education. School counselors can implement strategies such as small groups, individual counseling, classroom lessons, parent contact, community resources, schoolwide behavior management programs, etc., to have an impact on the over-identification of Black students for emotional disturbance. There are many other systemic barriers requiring school counselors to provide closing-the-gap interventions. Discipline referrals disaggregated by ethnicity and gender is one place to start. 

Find people in your schools who have the same sense of urgency to create change. Build your ally base, but don’t ignore those who resist change. They need our involvement, hard as it might be at times. The site supervisor in the earlier example could have chosen to confront and/or educate the offending teacher, but in this case she chose to regard the behavior as so egregious, so blatantly racist that she chose not to engage (E.a., E.b.). These are decisions that can only be made in the context of the real situations.  

Make connections with community members. Bring them in to discuss race relations in large groups or maybe to provide a safe place for small groups to vent their fears or frustrations about race relations. It’s always risky when you bring in an outsider, regardless if the message is as benign as how to grow a garden or as highly charged as racism. But it’s better to take the risk than remain silent. 

Will there be backlash or uproar if the message is offensive to some? Yes, and there are a few cases, Parker v. Hurley, 2007 and Morrison v. Board of Education of Boyd County, 2006, in which the court sent parents the message that they did not have a constitutionally protected right to tell the public school district what they could teach. Some parents, educators andcommunity members might issue an outcry that students should not be exposed to the harsh realities of racism and that we should not tackle the subject. From an uncomfortable place can come growth. Students are already exposed, and it’s far better for us to help them frame the message wrapped in solutions than to leave racism unaddressed.

Let us find our leadership voice. We cannot change what happens to students between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 a.m., but we certainly can change what happens to them 35 hours a week. We might not be able to fix their neighborhood, their living conditions, their income or their support systems, but let us double our efforts on the factors we can alter. It is our day-to-day role as school counselors that has power for change. 

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. Contact the author for references in this article.