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Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Duties
9/1/2017
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Friday September 01, 2017
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight


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You’ve just started a new job, but you’re finding the school counseling program is expected to be an extension of administration. You are trying to establish a comprehensive school counseling program, but everyone else is defining your role, assigning you administrative tasks and not allowing you to deliver school counseling core curriculum classroom lessons. You are able to do little on the appropriate list of activities as established by the ASCA National Model, and you are assigned way too many on the inappropriate list. Can your ethical standards help? Are there any court cases to provide you with legal muscle?

With considerable intentionality, the following standard was added to the 2016 ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors: B.2.c. Advocate for a school counseling program free of non-school-counseling assignments identified by “The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs” as inappropriate to the school counselor’s role.

The rationale behind the inclusion of this standard was to provide school counselors with ethical leverage to advocate for the elimination of inappropriate activities. “The Use of Time: Appropriate and Inappropriate School Counseling Activities” serves as a helpful teaching tool when explaining school counseling program activities. This tool provides a comparison between similar types of activities and describes the counterpoint of those activities that cross the line to the inappropriate end of the continuum.

Standard B.2.c is a tool and not a weapon. The school counselor as advocate uses a great deal of political acumen when using the B.2.c. standard. Raising awareness of barriers that stratify the implementation of a comprehensive program is advocacy; however, knowing how to negotiate the political landscape is effective advocacy. Frustration with assignments and practices that stratify one’s ability to provide a comprehensive program is understandable, but failure to understand the political climate and act in appropriate ways to advocate is just as damaging as not advocating at all. Acting astutely with ethical standards and legal guidance will maximize the likelihood of success. School counselors who use finesse and diplomacy to navigate the political landscape and to determine the most astute way to get what is needed for students are effective change agents.

School counselors fulfilling both ethical principles and negotiating political landmines face challenges not easily solved as demonstrated in the case of Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008). In this case, a school counselor found herself in a conflict with her principal that ended with the loss of her employment and a federal civil rights lawsuit. N.W., a school counselor at a special education center, tried to advocate with her administrators for programs for her students and eventually she went over her principal’s head to the district’s pupil services administrator. The principal responded by sending N.W. a letter of reprimand for “going out of process.” A power struggle between the principal and N.W. ensued. The principal recommended against N.W. receiving tenure, and N.W.’s response was to file a civil rights suit in federal court alleging adverse administrative actions that violated her First Amendment freedom of expression. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled in favor of the school district. The case shows how legal protection does not necessarily accompany ethical imperatives. The responsibility is on the politically astute school counselor to minimize the conflict between political compliance and ethical behavior, as the option of legal recourse is not a promising one. Negotiating the politics with administrators can at times be complex, but adhering to ethical standards requires school counselors to find alternate routes to compromise without going to battle with administrators.

Building-level principals, with few exceptions, are the direct-line supervisors for school counselors, and therefore, they are allowed to establish the role of school counselors. The onus is on the school counselor to help the principal know what the role should (appropriate duties) and should not (inappropriate duties) entail. Professional behavior requires a school counselor to abide by the district policy while advocating appropriately for change. Learn the rules so you know how to break them politically, ethically and legally.

The 2016 Ethical Standards provide considerable support for comprehensive school counseling programs.

A.3.b. Provide students with a comprehensive school counseling program that ensures equitable academic, career and social/emotional development opportunities for all students.

B.2.b. Design and deliver comprehensive school counseling programs that are integral to the school’s academic mission; driven by student data; based on standards for academic, career and social/emotional development; and promote and enhance the learning process for all students.

When ethics are accompanied with legal guidance you have an influential combination to advocate for a climate in which you can implement a comprehensive school counseling program unfettered by inappropriate duties. The examples below pair standard B.2.c. with legal guidance, resulting in stronger advocacy for a comprehensive school counseling program.
 
Inappropriate: Performing disciplinary actions or assigning discipline consequences
Bullying is illegal in all 50 states; therefore, it is a discipline issue under the control of administration action. A school counselor was at the center of a court case that involved the school counselor, who had insinuated herself in a discipline issue that she mistakenly labeled conflict. The school counselor brought the bully and the victim together for conflict resolution. This well-meaning intervention on the part of the school counselor was misguided and ended disastrously (Gammon v. Edwardsville Community Unit School District (1980)). An eighth-grade student was warned by her peers that another student who was making threats against her wished to see her in the restroom. The student went to her school counselor for help. The school counselor brought in the threatening student to give the two girls a chance to “air their differences.” The school counselor testified that the threatening student’s considerable anger was apparent and did not diminish as a result of the joint counseling session or later when the school counselor met privately to warn her suspension would result if any fighting occurred.

The school counselor subsequently conferred with the apprehensive student and recommended she avoid any encounter with the other girl. The student continued to express her fears and clearly indicated clearly her difficulties with the aggressor were not over. The school counselor did not notify the administration or playground supervisors. Both girls were on the playground at the same time later in the day, and the aggressor struck the victim in the left eye with her fist, producing a skull fracture so serious it required corrective surgery (Gammon v. Edwardsville Community Unit School District (1980)).

School counselors must recognize bullying as an imbalance in power and unequal emotional responses on behalf of victim and perpetrator. The minute this school counselor learned she was in the midst of a bullying situation she needed to label it as discipline and notify administration.
 
Appropriate: Present school counseling core curriculum lessons
School counselors present core curriculum that contributes to anti-bullying and a safe respectful school climate as well as other topics supporting their goals for the year. Teachers, parents and administrators can help or hinder school counselors’ ability to provide classroom core curriculum, the bedrock of a comprehensive school counseling program. Parents who object to their child’s exposure to curriculum they believe is an affront to their values have been allowed to opt their child out of the curriculum.
In 2006, two families in Lexington, Mass., objected to their elementary school children’s curriculum on accepting diversity, which depicted a variety of family structures including a family with two dads and one with two moms. In dismissing the ensuing lawsuit against the school district, the District Court 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). Districts may require parental notification or written permission for some topics. Notification may simply mean 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.

In a separate case, Morrison v. Board of Education of Boyd County, 2006, parents were not 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.
 
Appropriate: Providing individual and small-group counseling services to students
 
Inappropriate: Providing therapy or long-term counseling in schools to address psychological disorders

The ASCA position statement The School Counselor and Student Mental Health (2015) requires school counselors to focus their efforts on designing and implementing comprehensive programs promoting academic, career and social/emotional success for all students [emphasis on the “all”]. While implementing a comprehensive program school counselors:
  • Deliver the school counseling core curriculum that proactively enhances awareness of mental health; promotes positive, healthy behaviors; and seeks to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues
  • Provide responsive services including internal and external referral procedures, short-term counseling or crisis intervention focused on mental health or situational (e.g. grief, difficult transitions) concerns with the intent of helping the student return to the classroom and removing barriers to learning
  • Provide school-based prevention and universal interventions and targeted interventions for students with mental health and behavioral health concerns
Although school counselors do not provide long-term mental health therapy in schools, they provide a comprehensive school counseling program designed to meet the developmental needs of all students. As a component of this program, school counselors collaborate with other educational professionals and community service providers.
 
Inappropriate: Coordinating schoolwide individual education plans, student study teams and school attendance review boards
 
Appropriate: Advocating for students at individual education plan meetings, student study teams and school attendance review boards

Parents, principals, school psychologists, social workers and others who misunderstand the school counselor’s role in providing support in mental health services will sometimes impose on the school counselor unrealistic expectations to address clinical topics. For example, long-term therapy as dictated on individualized education programs (IEPs) is a growing phenomenon aimed at supporting a few students, and the fallout is the exclusion of a comprehensive program for all students. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the subsequent Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 is being misinterpreted in such a way as to hold school counselors responsible for counseling sessions being written into IEPs with very prescriptive parameters of how many minutes per week a student is to receive counseling and often for the duration of the entire school year or the active period of the IEP.

This approach threatens to erode comprehensive school counseling programs. An official from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, which governs the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 lent his expertise to weigh in on this practice, and he expressed that in no way does IDEA expect that all children who show emotionality on a psychological examination should automatically have counseling as a needed service on their IEP. Secondly, he stressed that any blanket practice negated the intent of IDEA and that is to have the team develop an individual program, thus the name individualized education program. Thirdly, he strongly questioned the practice of having a school counselor work in a “therapeutic role,” which were his words and interpretation of year-long counseling. School counselors serve all students in their charge, and it is unethical and professionally questionable when others define their role as serving a very small percentage of their population to the inclusion of hundreds of others in their population.
 
Appropriate: Helping the school principal identify and resolve student issues, needs and problems
 
Inappropriate: Assisting with duties in the principal’s office

Trust is a crucial hallmark of the school counseling profession. The ASCA Ethical Standards emphasize the balance that must happen between loyalty to students and consideration that must be given to other educators and the need to know information to advantage a student. School counselors practice in a unique setting dictating responsibility beyond the student. It is a tug of war that school counselors must skillfully negotiate with the help of our partners such as our administrators. For example if students confide in you that they are homeless, are a victim of dating violence and/or have been sexually abused, this has to be shared with administration, which has a legal responsibility in each situation. The skilled school counselor will work with the students for whom their confidence was breached to help them understand why the breach was necessary and, if appropriate, ask the students if they would like to be present or provide the information themselves. Administrators more than teachers or parents/guardians want to know the contents of counseling sessions. In a January 2017 survey, 36.5 percent of school counselor respondents indicated they had been regularly asked by administrators for content of their counseling session that would require breach of confidentiality. The test is to advantage the student by collaborating with the principal and other educators in the school while keeping a trusting relationship.

Carolyn Stone, Ed.D., is a professor at the University of North Florida and chair of ASCA's Ethics Committee.