The legal case that will be discussed in this paper in relation to issues that have resulted in legal implications for a school counselor at the K-12 level is entitled State of New Jersey v. Kelly Michaels. The main topic of the case is child abuse. The case was heard before the New Jersey Supreme Court and decided last June 23, 1994. A nursery school teacher was accused of committing sexual abuse against the children she taken cared of. The sentence that was pronounced to the school teacher was a long term imprisonment with sufficient time of parole disqualification. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the lower court and the Supreme Court affirmed such decision (McMartin, 2000, p. 1). The basis of the affirmative decision of the Appellate Division is the errors committed during the prosecution of the case.
The Supreme Court questioned the way wherein the case is prosecuted in the court of justice. A pre-trial hearing must be done in order to make sure that the State investigators conducted the questioning in accordance with the rules. The rationale behind such ruling is the fact that improper questioning would irremediably compromise the reliability of any testimonial evidence (McMartin, 2000, p. 1). As a result, the State filed a petition in order to nullify the decision of the Appellate Division but the Supreme Court denied such petition. The improper interrogations were found out to be the main cause of the denial decided by the Supreme Court.
The ethical standards present in the given case are divided into two: namely, the utmost diligence to be performed by a school teacher over children entrusted in his care, and courts of justice must perform the proper administration of justice. In this case, the first ethical issue is not violated because the Appellate Division decided that the lower court failed to detect the errors in the prosecution of the case. In other words, there were no sufficient evidences that the school teacher committed child abuse against the children she taken cared for. However, the second ethical issue is violated because the prosecution of the case was done in errors which are not proper in the consequences.
The school counselors at the K-12 level must perform different actions in order to avoid the civil actions taken in the lawsuit. First, the school teacher must be brought before the school governing body for proper questioning regarding the issue that she was involved with. This step would prevent civil cases in lawsuits. Second, the school teacher concerned must realize the importance of exercising utmost diligence in taking good care of the children entrusted to her for education and guidance. When the parents of the school children will learn of any hint of child abuse in school, they would feel restless nights resulting to filing a damages suit.
Third, the school counselors must conduct trainings from to time in handling school children in order to avoid child abuse. Periodic training schedules will also remind school teachers to exercise prudence in giving guidance and education to their students. And fourth, the school counselors must properly supervise and oversee the performance of the teachers in the school.
The outcome of the case and the implications for school counselors and psychologists is much related. The outcome of the case gave the school teacher concerned to change her attitude in her treatment of the children. While it is true that the case was decided in her favor, there is no doubt that the children experienced child abuse while under her supervision as a teacher. Besides, there may be impropriety of the questioning process; the testimony of the victims may at least be approximated. Remember that young children do not necessarily commit falsehood. The school counselors and psychologists must prepare for consequences like the one involved in the case. Both parties must work hand in hand in order to avoid the aforementioned case in the future. Aside from that, the outcome of the case also teaches school counselors and administrators that not all legal cases filed against teachers due to commission of child abuse is with basis and tenable.
The legal issues involved in the case have an impact in the field of school counseling. With respect to school children, they could ask guidance from the school counselors regarding cases of child abuse. In the case of teachers, the school counselors will be able to warn them for possible criminal and civil cases in their failure to exercise ethical and moral standards in their teaching job. Finally, the school counselors could also include in their training schedules the way on how to handle legal issues involved in lawsuits which are baseless.
McMartin, M. 2000. State of New Jersey v. Margaret Kelly Michaels. UMKC.Edu. Retrieved July 17, 2009 from <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects