Communicating Effectively to Resolve Ethical Concerns: The Role of School Psychology Supervisors

Article excerpt

School psychologists are entrustedby schools, parents, and guardians to provide services that are in the best interest of the children. This trust requires individuals certified by state education departments to follow legal mandates with regard to all children, and particularly for students identified with special education needs. This trust evolves from the training and internship required to obtain certification and from the National Association of School Psychologists' (NASP) Principles for Professional Ethics and requirements of other relevant professional organizations. These codified standards assure consumers of the quality of services they may expect from certified/licensed school psychologists. It is incumbent upon each school psychologist to engage in ethical behavior based on current ethical codes guiding school psychology. The school psychologist is often the team member most knowledgeable regarding federal and state laws mandating educational services. Sometimes ethical dilemmas that school psychologists face are the result of a school-basedteam member (or members) violating procdures or failing to follow regulations. One of the most difficult challenges that schoolpsychologistswith ethical dilemmas encounteris communicating our perspective effectively to administrators and other stakeholders to help them see that acting ethically is always in the best interests of the child.

School psychology supervisors are frequently contacted by school psychologists regarding diverse ethical issues as they navigate the waters of the educational system. According to Dailor (as cited in McNamara & Jacob, 2008) , school psychologists' most frequently reported ethics-related concerns are: (a) administrative pressure (43%), (b) unsound educational practices (41%), and (c) assessment related concerns (27%). School psychologists have these concerns when they are placed in a situation in which they are being asked to do something that is not in keeping with their code of ethics, or when they are aware of a situation in which others may not be following educational law or acting in the best interest of the student(s). The call or e-mail to the supervisor may sound something like this:

I have been told to fill out a form to place a student in a more restrictive environment even though the student does not meet the requirements. The school hasn't done the appropriate testing, attempted any behavioral interventions, and has already found the student eligible for special education services. In my opinion, the student really never met that requirement in the first place. I dissented and the team is upset with me. The special education teacher is not trained to do testing. No one is listening to me. I am so frustrated.

In School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice III, the authors outline areas of competence that school psychologist practitioners need in order to work effectively and ethically. Ethical standards should be communicated to administrators and other school personnel so they understand that school psychologists must follow both the legal mandates of the state and the ethical requirements of their profession with regard to all children, and particularly for students identified with special educational needs.

To achieve this communication, it is helpful to think about the three levels of communications: calling card tactics, action requests, and crisis communication.


"Calling Card" communication is a preventive step designed to ensure that practices are aligned with ethical standards. It is a Tier 1 strategy that is designed to raise awareness and create universal understanding of an issue before a conflict arises. Activities might include:

* Volunteering to hold staff trainings along with an administrator or other related services personnel on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or IDEA noting the school psychologist's ethical responsibility within these governing rules and regulations

* Conducting workshops for parents or staff on the special education process, eligibility, rights and responsibilities, or testing basics, making sure to include the ethical code and responsibilities

* Writing a column in the monthly school newsletter relating to special education rules, regulations, testing, transition services, etc. …


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