Ethical Questions to Consider -- Part 3 of 5

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

Question 9: What is the policy regarding reporting students who lie, cheat, or steal at school?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

There is often no clear policy because each situation needs to be considered individually. Much can be resolved at the classroom level. Larger issues of cheating and stealing will require discipline at the administrative level, and occasionally police involvement (such as a situation where a student breaks into the school and steals money from the concession stand).

But because there often isn’t one clearly stated policy, the responses that teachers, counselors, and administrators have to these questions may be inconsistent.

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

Lying, if it’s on a personal level, can often be addressed in the classroom or in the counselor’s office. If a student has been caught cheating or stealing, the teacher and/or administrator need to take care of the behavioral consequences, and the counselor may then work with the student to find out what’s behind the behaviors and help the student build new skills and practice honesty and integrity.

If a student has been accused, but not caught, sometimes a teacher or administrator will send the student to the counselor to ask questions and "get it all figured out.” The counselor may talk with the student, build a rapport, and eventually get to the truth (or not), but behavioral consequences are outside the scope of the school counselor and need to be left to the teacher or administrator.

10. What is the policy regarding reporting students who lie, cheat, or steal off campus?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between school life and personal life. Some school counselors call home if they find out a student is stealing or breaking a law off campus, stating that it’s ethical to do so because the student has put his or her health and safety at risk. Others don’t.

Some schools have a policy about it; others don’t. A pattern of lying or cheating off campus is more an issue for the counselor than for administration, especially if a parent or other students bring it to the counselor’s attention. Then the focus is on helping the student, not on consequences.

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

Decide on the specifics of a policy about this, before the school year begins, and include it in the student handbook to be signed off by students and parents. If there is no policy, and you’re not sure what to do, consult with another counselor on campus or with your supervisor, without giving the student’s name.

Ask for input, and base your decision on the bottom line concern of student health and safety, or imminent danger. Leave discipline to parents, administration, and police. As a school counselor, focus on the well-being of the student and do what you can to help him or her address the underlying issues.

If the student is stealing, ask gentle and respectful questions to find out if there is financial need in the family, and refer to the social worker or a community agency if needed. If it’s not about financial need, do what you can at the school counseling level and refer out if the underlying issues go beyond the scope of support and into a need for therapy.

Question 11: What is the policy regarding giving student information to non-custodial parents?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Many schools and districts have a policy that allows one parent to fill out forms at the beginning of the school year specifying who can pick up their child from school, and this becomes the “official” basis of who is allowed to have information about the student.

Often, in the case of a heated divorce or custody battle, one parent will inform someone in the office that the school is not to give any information to the other parent, and school officials will accept this without question. Many schools operate under the assumption that if one parent has primary or sole custody, the other is no longer entitled to any information about the child.

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

In Arizona, both parents are allowed to receive information about the child, regardless of custody, unless there is a specific court order (and the school has a copy on file) stating that one parent’s parental rights have been terminated, or a similar court order specifically stating that the parent is not to have any information. This is exceedingly rare. The issue of custody itself is not grounds to withhold information from a parent.

12. What is the policy regarding giving out community resource referrals such as counselor’s names, literature, websites, etc?

Common answer that creates an ethical dilemma:

Some schools and districts allow counselors to freely give referral information of all kinds. Others don’t allow any referrals to be made for fear that the district will be required to pay for services suggested by the school. Still others are unsure and choose to give only general information.

Best answer based on ethical standards:

School and districts may create a policy about what kinds of referral information can be given to students and parents (and some districts put together an approved list that is distributed district-wide), but it is appropriate for referrals to be given.

The Ethical Standards state that the school counselor “is aware of and utilizes related professionals, organizations and other resources to whom the student may be referred.” School counselors are encouraged to give multiple referral options rather than just naming one person or one organization.

The issue of the school or district having to pay for counseling or other services is typically relevant only in special education where services are “required” according to the IEP, or in the case of a behavioral contract where students are required to receive certain services or evaluations before returning to school. Those decisions are typically made by administration or the IEP team, not the counselor.

Best bet for school counselors: Suggest rather than requiring, give several options, and encourage parents in writing (on your list of suggestions) to “consider options and make whatever choice feels right for you and your family.”

Go to the next page, "Ethical Questions to Consider -- Part 4 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!