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School Counselor Educators and Site Supervisors as Leaders 
11/1/2019
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Friday November 01, 2019
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight


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One of our most important professional responsibilities is to support the growth and development of school counseling candidates. School counseling site supervisors and school counselor educators are the preservice trainers and first teachers to help school counseling students develop the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to become successful school counselors. Although the work of supporting school counseling students is rewarding, it can also carry the unenviable task of determining if a particular student is a match for the field. 

The evaluator role can be a difficult one to balance when you are both the supportive mentor and the necessary gatekeeper. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the student would be a colleague who can adhere to our moral principles of beneficence and non-maleficence. The rewards are obvious when you serve as a mentor if the student progresses, grows and appreciates your tutelage, but the stress is tenfold when you have an incompetent candidate or one who makes the academic grades without difficulty but whose attitude and disposition are a threat to the well-being of K–12 students. 

The following scenarios are from site supervisors or school counselor educators about candidates whose behavior was suspect. Except for the court cases, the details have been camouflaged.

Your school counseling intern chaperoned the middle school dance. Later she posted a picture on social media of a student attendee with the caption, “Looks like she made her dress.” There is no debate, the caption was meant to be an insult. Can this intern be a school counselor?

School districts are highly protective of students’ photos. Educators understand that without an expressly given release some photos violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and personal rights. An intern’s social media page would always be considered off limits for student photos. This in and of itself is a problem, but let’s focus on the issue of whether someone who is willing to cyberbully a child is someone who can be a school counselor. Is there a personal improvement plan a university preparation program can design that will teach a person basic decency? Is this one of those situations in which the student should immediately be dismissed from the program? Students contend with bullying at the hands of peers and sometimes teachers. School counselors cannot join their ranks. 

You stopped for lunch with your intern on your way back to school from a meeting. You stepped away from the table and were shocked when you returned to see the student had ordered and drank a beer. You said, “I didn’t know you weren’t planning to go back to the school.” The intern laughed and said, “It’s just a beer.” When you told him that he couldn’t return to school that afternoon, he appeared incredulous and said, “Are you serious?” Can this intern be a school counselor?

This seems more an error in judgment rather than a basic character flaw and is probably behavior that can be redirected. Not consuming alcohol before going to a school function may seem like common sense. However, after discussing the situation with the student, if the student understands why it’s unacceptable and assures you it won’t happen again, the site supervisor and school counselor educators might allow this student to continue in the program. In some cultures, a beer at lunch is akin to drinking an iced tea; regardless, this intern needs to understand the norms of schools. 

You are a site supervisor with a caseload of 660 high school students. You have always generously given time and attention to supervising interns, and others consider you exceptional in preparing future school counselors. You signed your intern’s log of hours worked and later learned from the university he falsified some of his hours. Should the university, as threatened, take you off the list of those who can supervise? 

Site supervisors are responsible for reviewing and verifying an intern’s log before they sign; however, they should not be held accountable to police the hours. In this case, the university wanted to make the site supervisor responsible for the intern’s lie, which is completely unfair. In their hectic workday, school counselors cannot be expected to track every hour an intern serves. Ideally, a manageable sign-in/sign-out system would be best, but any system depends on the intern to be honest. A log falsified by the candidate should not be a deciding factor in determining whether this school counselor is fit to be a site supervisor, but it should be a factor in deciding whether this candidate is fit to be a school counselor.

You are a school counselor educator, and you have a school counseling candidate who explains that she cannot work with students who are seeking help in same-sex relationships. Can this student be an effective school counselor? 

The courts have recently addressed three cases involving counseling candidates and their religious beliefs that found their way into their field work: Cash v. Missouri State University, Ward v. Wilbanks and Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley. 

Andrew Cash sued for 51 internship hours he accrued at the Christian counseling center he directed. The center refused to counsel gay couples, and Cash concurred and expressed this belief. The university required him to change sites and denied him the 51 hours accrued with the previous site. Cash was eventually dismissed from the preparation program. He filed a lawsuit, and in 2017, Missouri State University (MSU) officials agreed to pay him $25,000, the estimated cost to obtain a degree from another preparation program. The conditions included that he could not seek admission or employment with MSU. The university admitted no liability. 

Julea Ward, a school counseling candidate, was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) after she refused to counsel an EMU student whose presenting problem was his same-sex relationship. Citing her religious beliefs, Ward said she needed to refer this student. She said she would work with gay students on a number of subjects but not to affirm their same-sex relationship. The university, citing failure to adhere to the profession’s code of ethics, dismissed her. She sued with the help of The Alliance Defense Fund, whose clients are those who claim they were wronged by institutions or individuals stepping on family values. On Dec. 10, 2012, EMU settled with Ward for $75,000, stating the lawsuit was too expensive to continue. The university admitted no wrongdoing. 

Jennifer Keeton, an Augusta State University student, made remarks about her unwillingness to support a student’s presenting problem of same-sex relationships and was a proponent of reparative therapy, which the profession views as unethical. The university required Keeton to attend diversity workshops. She refused to comply, stating they promoted immoral behavior according to her religious views. Her case was dismissed by the courts. 

The main difference between the Cash case and the Ward and Keeton cases is that Cash was preparing for the mental health field, in which it is easier to determine a fit between counselor and client. Ward and Keeton were going to be school counselors, whose students are assigned by grade level or alphabet. The potential to do great harm is present in both the mental health and school counseling arena but is considerably heightened when vulnerable students are rebuffed by the only counselor who might be available to them. 

Ethical school counselors engage in pointed opportunities for exposure to other opinions and viewpoints to affirm all students in their charge. Self-examination is critical given the nature of the school counseling relationship. School counselors hold personal values rooted in their religion, but they must ensure they do not expose their values in word or deed if their own values put up barriers to students’ ability to explore their own beliefs. 

When counseling candidates who cite religious beliefs as the basis of their behavior are dismissed from their preparation program, the risk of a lawsuit is higher. These preparation programs refused to simply pass these candidates along but instead offered the students opportunities to grow their personal/social/consciousness skills or to move to a profession in which these skills are not necessary. 
University preparation programs have school counseling students for two to three years, but the school district can have them for decades. Those in charge of educating future school counselors can’t pass on a problem to the future school district employer to fix. The onus is on school counselor educators and site supervisors to serve as the first line of gatekeeping in determining if a school counseling student has the disposition needed to make a good school counselor.

The gatekeeping role is one we rail against when it comes to pre-K–12 students, but it’s imperative to take on this role when it comes to future school counselors. Some behaviors, such as plagiarism, lend themselves to immediate dismissal from a school counseling preparation program, but more often it is a longer process to document the inappropriate and uncorrected behaviors. 

A site supervisor alerted the school counselor educator responsible for his school counseling intern that during a field trip the intern pretended to sleep with her head on a student’s shoulder on the bus ride home, flirted with students “a mile a minute” and jumped on a student’s back for a piggyback ride. What is the school counselor educator’s leadership role in this situation?     

Appropriate boundaries between educators and students have been carefully crafted and built as a protection for students. Secure boundaries of role, time and place give the counseling framework structure, security and predictability. School counselors continuously balance the complex work of trying to show loyalty and support with developmentally immature students while being vigilant to the pitfalls of boundary crossings.

School counselors must ask themselves if a boundary crossing is appropriate and safe from potential boundary violations. Any deviation from standard practice should cause school counselors to reflect on their rationale for boundary crossings. Boundary crossing can be beneficial in some cases, but school counselors must struggle with determining if the benefits are obvious and the potential risks are almost nonexistent and minor. 

In C.A. v. William S. Hart Union High School District, C.A., a 14-year-old student alleged that Hubbell, the head school counselor at his high school, sexually harassed, abused and molested him on a number of occasions. The district knew Hubbell had a history of engaging in sexually related conduct with minors. Despite this knowledge, the school district hired her and gave her unsupervised access to minors. On March 8, 2012, the California Supreme Court noted, “Supervisory personnel have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect students from abuse, including abuse by teachers and school counselors when they know or have reason to know of the potential for such abuse.” School officials “have a duty to protect students from harm, which includes an obligation to exercise ordinary care in hiring, training, supervising and discharging school personnel.” (C.A. v. William S. Hart Union High School District, 12 S.O.S. 1151).

The school counselor educator in this very real case of the intern on the field trip was told this student lacked basic common-sense judgment in appropriate conduct with students. This intern’s behavior was not a boundary crossing but a boundary violation. 

In a two- or three-year program it is unlikely anyone can fix such gross lack of judgment, and since this school counseling candidate was already at the internship phase, it’s highly unlikely remediation can work. In this case the school counselor education faculty exercised their leadership role and helped this school counseling candidate find another calling. The intern violated boundaries, and to ignore this and allow the student to graduate is to negate the critical leadership role a school counselor educator has to protect this intern’s future students. School counseling is a privilege, not an entitlement, and not everyone can or should be a school counselor. 

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.

To submit your questions for a future column, e-mail them to ethics@schoolcounselor.org.