One of our main roles as school counselors is to advocate for students. Our job is to support efforts that will increase academic/ social and emotional success for our children. Counselors have to abide both ethical and legal standards. At times, a counselor may think their actions are ethically correct; however they may not be protected under law. Unfortunately school counselors can find themselves in a conflict when these ethical standards and the law collide. As counselor not everything is black and white. Sometimes when trying to do the right thing, we end up in a gray area. In Woodlock v Orange Ulster, the defendant was doing her best to advocate for the students as her learning center, however in doing so she ended up losing her tenure and her case. This case shows that one can have the best intentions, but the lack the legal knowledge to back their agenda.
N.W worked a school counselor for 14 years in New York before she was offered a position at a facility geared towards special education. At this center there was an off-site administrator and an intern who did not have supervisory experience. N.W stated her concerns about the lack of adequate art and gym teachers. She also expressed her concerns about safety incidents that have taken place with one of the students. After N.W did not receive responses to any of her concerns she discussed her issues with the Pupil service administrator. After going to pupil services N.W received two reprimands and two disciplinary write ups. After finding out that she was not going to be approved for tenure, N.W resigned. She then met with a lawyer claiming that “adverse administrative actions, starting with the written reprimands and culminating in her constructive discharge, violated her first amendment” (Stone&Zirkel, 2010).
The ASCA Ethical standards states that school counselors are “concerned with students’ academic, career and social/ emotional needs and encourage each student’s maximum development” (ASCA 2010). In this case, NW was doing her job duties by advocating for better instructors for her students. She was abiding by the ASCA ethical standards. Worried about having certified teachers that have the knowledge to work with special needs children, N.W attempted to discuss this issue with her principal. N.W was also concerned about a child who threatened to harm himself and others. As a school counselor N.W was advocating for her students, yet she did so in a way that was counteractive. N. W’s intentions may have been morally and ethically correct, yet her lack of legal knowledge ultimately led to the court favoring her place of employment. N.W received reprimands, because she did not go up the chain of command. She was also told she would not be approved for tenure. N.W felt that she had no other choice but to resign. Nevertheless, the court did not rule in her favor. N.W could not prove constructive discharge as a result of retaliation and her first amendment rights had not been impeded on.
Our freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution however, there are some exceptions to this clause. Speech within the workplace is only protected when it’s a “matter of public concern” (Stone & Zirkel 2010). N.W. was raising concerns about workplace issues; thus, her speech isn’t protected. N.W. could not claim her first amendment was violated. Pennsylvania is an at-will state. This means that an employee can be terminated for any reason. However, Pennsylvania does have laws regarding constructive termination and whistleblowing. The PA Whistleblowing law states that “A person who witnesses or has evidence of wrongdoing or waste while employed and who makes a good faith report of the wrongdoing or waste, verbally or in writing, to one of the person’s superiors, to an agent of the employer or to an appropriate authority” (Pennsylvania Statutes, 2007). N.W. could argue that based on the whistleblowing law she does have a valid case. An incident regarding a student who expressed that he was going to hurt himself and his class was also looked at during the case. The student may have told the counselor this in private . N.W reported this incident to her supervisor and it was also discussed in the legal proceedings. In Pennsylvania the law states that “Information received in confidence from a student may be revealed to the student’s parents or guardians, the principal or other appropriate authority when the health, welfare or safety of the student or other persons is clearly in jeopardy”(PA Code, ). According to Pennsylvania laws N.W did the right thing in reporting the students intentions and behaviors.
I believe N.W. was acting on what she believed were the student best interest. She saw an issue and spoke on it to her supervisor . N.W. had good intentions and her student’s best interest in mind. However how she acted on those intentions was not acceptable in her workplace. The way N.W. acted was within her legal and ethical standing, but she went about it in a way that caused her to receive written warnings. I believe if someone sees a problem, especially when it comes to children, they should speak up. I currently work in childcare and whenever I see a problem in my place of work I immediately let my supervisor know. I know now that I must make sure I am within my legal and ethical rights, as well my job policies. As school counselors our field requires that we “provide leadership to create systemic change to enhance the school” (ASCA, 2010)). To have change in the school, school counselors need to collaborate with other faculty within the school. School counselors cannot emit systemic change alone. You need the principal, administrators, educators and the community on your side to be an agent of change.
It is important that school counselors adhere to the ASCA Ethical standards. School counselors are guided by a set of standards that help ensure they are acting accordingly, especially when it comes to making decision that can affect the student. These ethical standards are a foundation for school counselors on how to act accordingly. It is also important that as school counselors we are aware of state and federal laws. A lot of times as a counselor the solution to a problem or issue is not absolute. School counselors often find themselves in conflicts or ethical dilemmas. It is our responsibility to make sure that when solving these conflicts we are adhering by the ASCA ethical standards as well as state and local laws.