Ethical Questions to Consider -- Part 2 of 5

Here's the next set of "gray area" questions worth asking at your school, to avoid ethical or legal dilemmas:

Question 5: What is the school’s plan for a crisis, such as a student or teacher death? Does the school communicate what happened to students, faculty, and parents, and if so, how? Who speaks to parents, the community, and the media? How are students in crisis supported?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Some schools and district have phenomenal, highly effective and efficient crisis plans that run like clockwork and do exactly what they’re designed to do. However, many schools and districts don’t really have a plan in place for a school wide crisis. Some just don’t see it as a necessity until they’ve actually had such a crisis with hundreds or thousands of students on campus.

Many new schools or growing districts haven’t had time to create a specific site-based plan, and some schools simply haven’t experienced a campus-wide crisis and don’t think they need a plan.

Best answer based on ethical standards:

Find out if there is a specific crisis plan at your school or district level. If there is one, ask for specific training about how the plan is implemented and who is responsible for what. If there is no plan, check with neighboring schools or districts, and see if your school can adapt an existing plan to meet your needs.

You can also search the internet for existing crisis plans. There are some very good ones posted on different district’s websites. At the very least, find out what you will be expected or required to do (and where your administrator wants you to be), and who can answer protocol questions in the event of a crisis on your campus. If you know at least that much, you can have a head start and be that much more prepared when your help is needed.

Question 6: What is the school’s specific policy regarding bullying?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Many schools and districts will say, “We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying,” but there are no specifics, and they cannot answer specific questions about how they define bullying, how they address students who bully (including consequences and counseling), how they help those who are being bullied, and what they are doing to prevent and intervene on bullying on their campuses.

Best answer based on ethical standards and/or the law:

HB2368 states the following:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Requires school district governing boards to adopt and enforce procedures that prohibit the harassment, bullying and intimidation of pupils on school grounds, school property, school buses, school bus stops and at school sponsored events and activities. The procedures must contain the following:

A confidential process that allows pupils to report incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying to school officials.

A procedure for the parents or guardians of pupils to submit written reports concerning harassment, intimidation or bullying to school officials.

A requirement that school district employees report suspected harassment, intimidation or bullying.

A formal process for the documentation and investigation of reported incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

A formal process for an investigation of suspected incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

Disciplinary procedures for students admitting to, or who are found guilty of, committing harassment, intimidation or bullying.

A procedure that provides consequences for submitting false reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

Adds the school district and school district employees to those groups that are immune from civil liability for the consequences of adoption and implementation of policies and procedures regarding school district governing board requirements under Section 15-341, subsection A and the discretionary powers of school district governing boards under Section 15-342, unless guilty of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Makes technical and conforming changes.

47th Legislature First Regular Session 2 April 15, 2005 Signed by the Governor April 20, 2005

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, if your school or district has no specific policy, create or find one. There are many posted online, and there are also many programs, such as the Olweus materials, that answer common questions, and offer ideas and curriculum designed to prevent and address bullying. Addressing this issue is now a legal necessity, not just an ethical dilemma.

Question 7: What is the school’s policy regarding sexual harassment between students? At what point, if any, are students suspended, and at what point, if any, are the police involved?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Many districts have no policy about sexual harassment, even though it is illegal, not just unethical. Some say the same things they say about bullying, “We have a zero-tolerance policy,” but they have no specifics to back it up. Often even if there is a policy, it is inconsistently enforced.

Best answer based on ethical standards and/or the law:

Know the law and the definition of sexual harassment: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Find a list of specific behaviors that qualify, and make the list available to staff, and to students when needed.

And know that it’s also particularly important for students to be aware that “continued expressions of sexual interest after being informed that the interest is unwelcome” is when it’s crucial to report the harassment to an adult.

Teach students to say directly to the person making the sexual advances or remarks, “Stop saying (or doing) things like that. I’m not interested and I don’t like that.” And let the students know that once they’ve stated that they don’t like it and asked or told the other person to stop, if the other person does it again, it’s now officially sexual harassment and is against the law.

Teach students how to document and report, and have a specific policy for how it will be addressed. There may be a matrix or a continuum of consequences based on the severity of the behavior. Spell it out and make it available to all. Be available to answer student and staff questions. Follow through.

Know that it may be appropriate at times for school officials to call the police, especially if there’s a physical component to the harassment. School officials and students can make police reports, but schools don’t typically press charges – that’s up to the student’s parents.

Question 8: If a student stated that a teacher was sexually inappropriate with him or her, what would be the procedure for handling the situation? Who at school would be part of the process?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Sometimes a school counselor hearing this information will approach the teacher in order to ask questions and get the other side of the story. If this were purely an ethical issue, rather than a legal issue, this would be the ethically correct course of action. Because it’s a legal issue, going directly to the teacher involved can create legal problems for the teacher, the counselor, and the school.

Best answer based on ethical standards and/or the law:

Tell the student that you must report this to the school administration because it’s a legal matter and a safety risk. If possible, have the student write out what happened and sign the statement. If you get a written and signed statement, make a copy of it to keep on file as part of your documentation. Encourage the student to tell his or her parents about what happened, and for them to contact the school.

Take your information directly to your administrator (the original written statement if you have one, or just what you know verbally), state what was said to you, and state that you don’t know the whole story, but that you know you need to turn it over to the administration because of the legalities. Document everything including dates and times of your discussions. Keep it all on file in a locked filing cabinet.

Most likely you will be completely out of the situation at this point until it’s handled legally. Usually the administrator, not the counselor, will notify the parents. Ask your administrator to keep you posted, since you still may need to have contact with this student for other reasons (schedule changes, etc.).

Ask your administrator whether you can listen if the student wants to talk about it with you, or if the parents contact you with questions (you will probably not be allowed to interact with the student or parents about the matter while the case is open). If you have a concern that your administrator has not taken any action on the matter, ask him or her directly for an update.

If there is no update, because no action has been taken, you now have an ethical concern about your administrator. Follow the ethical standards, which means going to your administrator’s supervisor. Once again, document everything.

Keep following up until you know for sure that legal action has been taken. You don’t need to know the details – just that something is being done, so the student is no longer at risk. And someone, somewhere, needs to notify the parents about what’s happening if they haven’t been notified yet. It’s better for the administration to do this, or the administrator’s supervisor, than for the counselor to do it. But it needs to be done.

Go to the next page, "Ethical Questions to Consider, Part 3 of 5."

Return to the School Counseling Zone Home Page.

You can click on any book cover below to see more information about that specific book, or click the "Susan's Books" tab on the left side of the page to see overviews of all the available books on one page. Enjoy!