Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselor Advocacy: When Law and Ethics May Collide

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselor Advocacy: When Law and Ethics May Collide

Article excerpt

Legal rules establish basic duties akin to the floor for acceptable behavior, whereas ethical codes represent aspirational standards for best practice. For school counselors, fulfilling both legal requirements and ethical principles may pose challenges that warrant careful consideration. This article outlines a legal/ethical conflict in the case of Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008), in which the school counselor followed the ethical precept of advocacy but did so in a way that collided with legal protections.


In their efforts to meet ethical norms for child advocacy, school counselors may find themselves embroiled in legal disputes. Law and ethical codes can offer differing messages, with legal protection not necessarily accompanying ethical norms. However, the politically astute and professionally diligent school counselor will seek to minimize the conflict between legal compliance and ethical behavior. The American School Counselor Association's (2004) ethical code recognizes the need for school counselors to be vigilant in respecting ethical norms and adhering to law and "when these are in conflict work responsibly for change" (F.1.d.). The intent of" this article is to present a court case in which the school counselor was meeting the letter of the law in advocating for her students yet her approach was questionable with regards to school counselor ethics and resulted in her dismissal.

School counselors' ethical norm of advocacy has as its centerpiece systemic change, specifically the identification of school system practices and procedures that impact student success. As systemic change agents, school counselors work to replicate or eradicate systems that enhance or inhibit student opportunities (American School Counselor Association, 2005). Effective systemic change requires political acumen, an important skill for school counselors to master.

In Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/ 2008), law and ethics collided when N.W., the school counselor in this case, advocated for systemic change on behalf of her special education students but did so in such a way that she suffered adverse employment consequences without legal protection. (Statement of accuracy: This case study accurately reflects the facts of the court case Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S., 2006/2008.) We filter the facts of the case through the lenses of legal protections and ethical standards, seeking an alternate route to that of N.W. that uses political astuteness to minimize conflict between these two perspectives.


N.W. was a school counselor in New York with 14 years of prior experience working with adults with disabilities. For her first two of three probationary years, she received favorable evaluations for her successive assignments with specialized groups of students, including those returning from drug and alcohol rehabilitation and those in special education. For her third year, which was 2003-04, the superintendent selected her for the counseling position at a new satellite center designed to provide mainstreaming opportunities for special education students. The superintendent explained that N.W.'s internship experience with staff at the host school, including the principal, made for a "win-win" arrangement. However, the principal only exercised off-site authority for the satellite center. Instead, A.I., an administrative intern who lacked supervisory experience and administrative certification, was nominally in charge.

During the fall and early winter, N.W. repeatedly expressed her view first to A.I. and then to the principal that the lack of certified gym and art instructors at the center violated state special education mandates and the children's Individualized Educational Program. During the same period, she also raised repeated concerns about escalating safety incidents involving a violent, traumatic brain-injured student; for example, she reported that he had smeared feces in the bathroom and that other students had attempted to light his hair on fire on the school bus. …

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