Ethics and Law for School Psychologists

By Susan Jacob; Dawn M. Decker et al. | Go to book overview

Epilogue: Ethics, Law, and Advocacy

The code of ethics of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2010a) states: “School psychologists consider the interests and rights of children and youth to be their highest priority in decision making and act as advocates for all students” (NASP-PPE Introduction). In addition, consistent with the general ethical principle of responsible caring and our commitment to building the capacity of systems, practitioners promote scientifically sound school policies to enhance the welfare of all students. They also are encouraged to work as advocates for change at the state and national level to better address the needs of children (NASP-PPE IV.1, IV.1.2; also Duncan & Fodness, 2008; Nastasi, 2008).

Many different definitions of advocacy exist. The NASP’s “Principles for Professional Ethics” describes advocacy in this way:

School psychologists have a special obligation to speak up for the rights and welfare of
students and families, and to provide a voice to clients who cannot or do not wish to
speak for themselves. Advocacy also occurs when school psychologists use their expertise
in psychology and education to promote changes in schools, systems, and laws that will
benefit school children, other students, and families. Nothing in this code of ethics, how-
ever, should be construed as requiring school psychologists to engage in insubordination
(willful disregard of an employer’s lawful instructions) or to file a complaint about school
district practices with a federal or state regulatory agency as part of their advocacy efforts.
(NASP-PPE Definition of Terms)

In 1974, a special issue of NASP’s School Psychology Digest (now School Psychology Review) addressed emerging ethical and legal issues in school psychology (Kaplan, Crisci, & Farling, 1974). One concern expressed by multiple authors was the challenge of managing conflicts inherent in the dual roles of child advocate and school employee. Not surprisingly, in several subsequent research studies, school-based psychologists reported pressure from their supervisors to put the administrative needs of the district (e.g., to contain costs, to maintain discipline) ahead of the rights and needs of students (Dailor & Jacob, 2011; Helton, Ray, & Biderman, 2000; Jacob-Timm, 1999). Although school administrators also are committed to promoting the welfare of all students, they face pressures to base decisions on “the good of the whole” rather than the needs of individual students and to carefully manage limited resources (Denig & Quinn, 2001). As is evident from the F. L. Miller’s (2009) experiences detailed in Exhibit E.1, advocating for the best interests of the student and upholding ethical standards, while at the same time facing pressure from administrators to simply defer to their judgments, continues to be a challenge for school-based psychological practitioners.

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