An Assignment Submitted by
In the work of a school counselor, ethical code of conduct plays a central role identifying the quality of the profession. A failure to comply with the ethical rules may lead to the disciplinary and legal consequences that will affect the career as well as the entire educational establishment. It is essential to remember that school bears a list of responsibilities for the life and well-being of children and adolescents that are both legally and ethically safeguarded by the state and the entire community. Consequently, the educators have to preserve a balance between their personal beliefs and interests and the needs of the students, parents, and the society. The harmony of this interrelationship is quite fragile, as the teachers deal with the subjective opinions, values, and needs that may differ in both students and their parents. Negligent treatment or a careless phrase expressed in the professional circle may lead to the serious outcomes. Disrespect of the personal boundaries or reckless use of information can cause legal and disciplinary consequences as well, which points to the need to be especially attentive to personal behavior, code of conduct, and ethical values before entering the field of education.
The cases presented in the list reflect both the egregious errors and difficult ethical dilemmas that may cause irreversible damage to the school’s reputation and an image of the educator. The first case involves the problem of professional boundaries and the need of a school counselor to search and present the information adequately. The main problem is the inability to promote one of the students to the 9th form due to the comment of the teacher that he accomplished nothing during the 8th grade. While the parents insist that the main barrier hindering the student from performing better is a mild ADHD, the comment of the counselor that the student is simply lazy and is interested in the social life. From one point of view, the comment made by the counselor is quite unprofessional and insensitive, yet at the same time, it may not constitute actual defamation insisted by the parents. In this case, a student may be simply lazy and inattentive, as ADHD does not mean that individual cannot perform in school. Yet, at least partially, the psychological condition of a student may affect his academic performance. The court order will depend on the provision of the legislation, the ability to prove or disprove that the student was affected by ADHD in terms of performance, if the comment of a counselor about his laziness had an impact on the student, and the actual performance of the student on the basis of his school records and evaluation of the teacher.
The second case involves an error in handling the sensitive information and dealing with the vulnerable populations. A teacher gathering a study group meeting reveals that Robert, one of the students has been sexually abused, which was not permitted by his parents. It is a huge mistake of the teacher to not only reveal but to make it a public knowledge that one of the students has been sexually abused. Here, personal beliefs of the teacher and his/her view regarding the good of a student and the group do not play an important role, as it is essential to preserve individual’s personal information, especially such vulnerable one, as long as it possible, especially when the student is a minor. The decision of the teacher was neither ethical nor legal.
The third case involves the strategies of record keeping and reporting, as one of the teachers reveals the personal information publicly to the colleagues. Despite the fact that the educator is aware that one of the students impregnated two girls in the class and being proud of it, it is unethical to reveal something like that to the group of colleagues. At the same time, this is a problematic question of whether the case represents a slander. The main problem here is the inability to prove how this information affects the student and if it was true. However, the actions of the teacher are not ethical in regard to the student as well as his parents.
The fourth case is a particularly difficult issue for the teacher as it represents the professional ethic values of the group. The teacher is included into the informal in-group membership that constitutes the ability to bond, spend time together, and enjoy mutually benefiting professional relationship. At the same time, the knowledge of the non-acceptance of some of the educators questions the ethical health of the in-group and its informal leaders. It is important to take into account the personal need to build a stable professional relationship as it will help the career and the dynamics in the educational establishment. On the other hand, ostracizing the other educators is not a good example for the students and tends to be damaging the school in general. Consequently, it is important to find a compromise with the informal group members to include the other educators at least to some of the group activities in order to improve the relationship with each other.
The initial impression of the case studies reveals their main strengths and limitations. While some of the cases are quite clear in terms of legal and ethical consequences, the others constitute a dilemma that may have different outcomes. The first case is quite problematic, as it involves a medical condition, which will be the biggest strength for the plaintiff. At the same time, the records of the school teacher may damage their case, as the student may actually be lazy and irresponsible disregarding the medical condition. Also, the statement of laziness of the student was brought to the attention of the parents. Yet, while the principal was present during the meeting, it enables the plaintiff to think that it is defamation. The teacher who claimed that the student is lazy must have reasonable grounds to say this. At the same time, it is unclear how the statement will affect the student in future, which is the weakest point of the case.
It is quite clear that the teacher in the second case was wrong both legally and ethically. The court will satisfy the suit of the plaintiff as it is a clear case of the inability to handle personal information and work with the vulnerable population. As the student is a minor, the consent to reveal such information has to be given by his parents and himself preferably in a written form in order to avoid the legal suit in future. As none of these conditions were followed, the court will have to use punitive measures depending on the scale of damage made to the student. The main strength of the case is the disclosure of the personal information by the teacher without the written consent of the parents. Unfortunately, there are no limitations for the plaintiff and it will eventually bring negative consequences to the career of the educator and the school. Finally, the fourth case study involves the professional ethics, which will be difficult to change if the in-group and its leaders have been practicing such treatment of the out-group teachers. The main strength of the teacher is to explain the necessity to include the others in several group occasions; the core limitation is the possibility to damage the relationship with the informal leaders and the group.
Enhancing Ethical Decision Making
Strategies to Improve Ethical Decision Making
The results of the analysis show that the school counselor is required to execute excellent ethical conduct and make sure that the educators together with the tom management of the facility follow the code of conduct. To address these aims and objectives, the school counselor has to take care of personal compliance with the ethical principles, legal issues, and policies existing in the field of education. In order to improve the ethical decision-making, it is essential to impellent the strategies of self-assessment by reviewing each problematic case from the point of view of all parties involved. Also, the self-assessment has to include the review of the cases from the legal point of view, where the vision of the legal counselor may be provided as well. The school counselor has to take care not only of personal reputation and the image of the educators but about the school in general that includes the students and their parents. Here, the conduct of all parties has to be examined as the students and their parents also may involve into the unethical conduct that may affect the school as well.
The Code of Ethics for Educators established by Association of the American Educators (AAE) Advisory Board designates the frames of conduct for all professionals operating within the educational sector (AAE, 2016). The Code covers all areas important for every teacher and school counselor, including the treatment of students, professional colleagues, community, and exercising the practices in the classroom (AAE, 2016). For instance, one of the provisions of the Code claims that “the educator does not reveal confidential information concerning students unless required by law”, which was abused in the second case study (AAE, 2016). Also, another provision emphasizes that the teacher does not present the information about the student following personal bias, prejudice, or distortion, which may be the case in the third case (AAE, 2016). It is possible to make assumptions following the Code, which requires being more attentive to the students’ interests rather than personal agenda. This set of rules helps to improve the ethical decision making by providing clear and concise rules regarding each professional area of functioning of the educator.
Also, ASCA and ACA codes of ethics have to guide the work of the counselors throughout their practice by indicating where the specialists are required to support the educators and where it is necessary to back up the position of the parents and students to maintain the ethical code of conduct. All sections in both documents are aimed to increase the awareness of the counselors about their actions and their outcomes for all parties involved. Also, the Codes have the purpose of guiding the counselors through the difficult situations that requires a multifaceted approach, which is essential for the situation where legal and ethical principles are blurred.
The policies and legal documents that aim to guide the educators and increase the quality of ethical decision-making by establishing the rules of behavior and treatment of the students, parents, colleagues, the facility, and the community. The U.S. Department of Education advises to focus on the several policies and legislations, such as the Civil Rights, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act), and Higher Education Act that regulate every instance of the educational practice in the U.S. (The U.S. Department of Education, 2016). For instance, ESSA is targeting the improvement of the school performance among the students designating the parental involvement into the educational process and the actions of the teachers that have to target the enhancement of the academic performance (ESSA, 2001). FERPA regulates the privacy of the students’ records, which hinders the educators to release them to public without the written consent of the parents (FERPA, 2012). Each of these legal documents safeguards the boundaries of the conduct of both parents and the educational establishments.
Ethical and Legal Challenges in Cases
Each of the cases generates several issues that concern ethical and legal questions. The first case involving the inability to promote a student, the counselor violated one of the ethical norms, where it is required that “counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” (ACA, 2014, p. 5). By claiming that the student is lazy and cares only about social life, the counselor crosses the boundaries and bases the evaluation of the students only on the point of view of a single teacher by simplifying the data. At the same time, this case does not violate any legislations, as the information was stated only in the presence of parents and a principal and according to FERPA (2012), the educator has the right to provide all information about the student to the “school officials with legitimate educational interests”. At the same time, there is a limitation regarding whether the case constitutes a defamation. In this case, the family aims to prove that the counselor made a slander, as it was an orally expressed comment. In this case, the parents will have to prove that the comment made by the counselor is the act of defamation, where the information was not based on truth, was damaging to the student, and it was made publically. As the balance between the defamation and free speech is quite fragile, the counselor may plead the First Amendment as the main source of defense, which allows free speech (U.S. Const. amend. I). It is a complicated matter, yet it is possible to claim that the court decision will not find the statement of the counselor to be a slander, due to the weaknesses of the case in proving the damage to the student and the public nature of the statement.
The second case involves several legal and ethical issues that present the counselor in the negative light. The counselor violated one of the ACA’s provisions that requires to “disclose information only with appropriate consent or with sound legal or ethical justification” (ACA, 2014, p. 7). It is quite evident that the counselor disclosed the personal information illegally and following the unethical premise. Despite the personal beliefs about the good of the students and the group, personal information that can make a child vulnerable cannot be shared with the group without the written consent signed by the parents, oral consent of the student, or the legal requirement. Also, the counselor has violated the FERPA (2012) provisions that require the professionals in the education field to safeguard the private information of the students, not to share it with the public in oral or written form and include only the observations or professional opinion. Therefore, the parents have a solid case in terms of punishing the counselor and the school for the inappropriate code of conduct.
The third case requires the thorough examination in terms of legal and ethical conduct. First of all, the counselor violated the same provisions of ACA, as it was indicated in the first case. The teacher must not have made the public statement based on personal bias, prejudice, or opinion (ACA, 2014). In this case, the counselor may have damaged the personal reputation of the student even if the statement is true. Legally, the statement may constitute a slander as it was expressed in the oral form, it was publicly made, the information provided by the counselor is based only on rumors or on the student’s personal claims, and may damage him in future. At the same time, the counselor may plead the First Amendment as well as the main defense against the accusations (U.S. Const. amend. I). Overall, the counselor has to be punished for the violation of the ethical code of conduct, where the disciplinary measures may be applied by the school officials.
The fourth case does not involve any legal issues, yet it refers to the ethical code of conduct among the educators. It is the obligation of the counselor to establish high ethical standards in the interdisciplinary team, where the ACA code claims “when a team decision raises ethical concerns, counselors’ first attempt to resolve the concern within the team” (ACA, 2014, p. 10). In the current case, the counselor noticed that the group acts unethically in regard to the out-group members, which is inappropriate in the educational community. The counselor may alert the school officials about the inappropriate behavior of the informal leaders and press them to make appropriate changes in the behavior and conduct of the teachers. In order to enact the same policies, the counselor may create an example by involving the out-group members into the activities held by the in-group leaders. If the situation raises any conflicts, the colleagues have to be notified about their unethical conduct and inappropriate treatment of the other professionals. In this case, the counselor may deteriorate the relationship with the group, which is the major limitation of the actions connected to this case. However, the ethical code of conduct has to be the priority of the counselor and unethical behavior has to be eliminated.
The current assignment improved my personal vision of ethical code of conduct and the dynamics of the relationship of the counselor with the students, parents, school officials, and educators. It became clear that the violations of the ethical norms may lead to the legal responsibility, which makes the counselor accountable in many cases of possible errors. It is easy to make a mistake by expressing a personal opinion or following personal bias and prejudice, which can trigger serious outcomes. I have realized that the school counselor has to remain his/her opinions and personal vision outside the school and be objective and unbiased in working with the clients, collaborating with parents, and dealing with the teachers as well as the school officials. The current assignment acknowledged me with the several sides of the questions involving ethical and legal problems. I came to a conclusion that the current case analysis provided with the several possible scenarios when the school counselor acts irrationally, unethically, and inappropriately due to the lack of understanding how such actions may affect the career and the educational establishment.
In a lot of instances, the field of ethics has been named as the most problematic in the country. It concerns both public and private institutions. As the community requires the improvements in this direction, it is the responsibility of the school to improve the quality of education in this discipline. Yet, theoretical knowledge of ethics is not enough for the students, as they need to observe the application of the ethical principles in practice. The best way of creating such practical interventions is to show it by the personal example. The environment where the teachers and counselors execute high ethical standards by being respectful to students, their families, and themselves, teaches students to follow the same rules. Moreover, ethical standards are not only the set of written rules; it is the type of appropriate behavior that has to be applied in all fields, including the education. Practicing the ethical code of conduct is essential for the counselors as well as the entire school, as it is impossible to educate the citizens without being ethical ourselves. These practices improve the community and trigger a positive social change in the schools by eliminating unfair conduct and respecting each other.
I consider that ethical standards are better to be enhanced by practicing them daily. It concerns the relationship with not only colleagues, clients, and school officials, but has to be the part of personal life and position as well. Therefore, I think that I will apply the ethical code of conduct to the relationship with my family, friends, and ordinary people, which will help me to become more ethical and understanding. For me, high ethical standards are not only the need to comply with the code of conduct but to be ethical to others, which will eliminate the problems presented in the case studies. When a person lives a “double” life, in one way or another he or she will violate the code of conduct one day. Consequently, I think that the best way of improving myself as a school counselor is to understand the consequences of my actions, how they affect the other parties, and how I can mitigate and predict the risks.
One of the most difficult things to practice for me is to take responsibility for the actions of others and monitor their conduct. In our culture, such actions do not encounter with positive reactions of the public, which makes the work of a counselor complicated. At the same time, in school it is the main responsibility of the counselor is to review the actions of other professionals and guide them into the right direction. I think that the interpersonal skills of the school counselors have to be exemplary in order not to deteriorate the relationship with the team and establish the environment of high ethical standards. Therefore, I plan to improve my interpersonal skills by theoretical and practical means. I plan to discuss the ethical standards with the students and colleagues and try to distinguish their understanding of ethics in order to reveal if the future work will hold the difficulties in terms of ethics. I also intend to read respective scientific journals that analyze the problem of ethics in educational establishments. As to the legal issues, I want to familiarize myself with the legislation that concerns the work of counselors and educators, which will enhance my understanding of the legal framework.
American Counseling Association (ACA). (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf
Association of the American Educators (AAE) (2016). AAE Code of Ethics for Educators. Retrieved from: http://www.aaeteachers.org/images/pdfs/aaecodeofethicsforeducators.pdf
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), S. 1177 (2001). Retrieved from: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114s1177enr/pdf/BILLS-114s1177enr.pdf
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Title 34 (2012). Retrieved from: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=16796a773ac48f980cdfaed80b1fa94a&rgn=div5&view=text&node=34:220.127.116.11.33&idno=34
U.S. Const. amend. I. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Laws & Guidance. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/landing.jhtml?src=ft).