The topic of this paper focuses on the battles school counselors face as the law and ethical standards collide. School counselors face a number of legal and ethical issues and recognizing a clear decision isn’t always easy. School counselors have to work with a large number of students, parents, and administrators while conforming to ethical codes, state laws, and school board guidelines. This topic is of great relevance to me as I will be going into the school counseling profession. It is also a meaningful topic to me because life-changing decisions are made every day in reference to legal and ethical issues. Researching this topic has shed some light on the difficulty for school counselors to fulfill both legal and ethical requirements. The main reason for this is that laws and ethical codes may sometimes provide differing and contradictory messages regarding the same subject. This can lead to legal ramifications, even while following ethical norms as we will look at in the example case of Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008).
In Woodlock v. Orange, the school counselor, known as N.W., was advocating for systemic change on behalf of her special education students. This was well within the code of ethics. N.W. was repeatedly expressing her concerns to the administrative intern and principal. Her primary concern was a lack of certified gym and art instructors, which violated state special education mandates and the children’s IEPs. She raised other safety concerns to the administration with little to no response. She began to document all of her interactions with the administration, leading to a written reprimand issued to her by the principal. This reprimand stated that N.W. was “taking it upon yourself to go out of process” (Stone, Zirkel 2010). Later, N.W. found out that the principal informed the union that she would not be recommended for tenure. N.W. eventually resigned and filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court stating that the administrations actions resulted in her forced resignation, violating her First Amendment right.
After a two year process of legal proceedings, N.W. lost the case in the Supreme Court. The ruling was “First Amendment freedom of expression does not protect statements that public employees make pursuant to their official duties, as compared with those they make as citizens on matters of public concern” (Stone, Zirkel 2010). N.W. was excluded from First Amendment protection due to the court concluding that she was performing the duties she was paid to perform while reporting her concerns.
This particular case illustrates a court trend in favor of school districts when involving educational litigation against professional educators, including school counselors (Stone, Zirkel 2010). This trend suggests that school counselors should think carefully before exercising their personal or professional beliefs, unless they estimate no employment discipline by their superiors. The point is...