Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Preface
























Chapter 8 – INDIRECT SERVICES I Ethical-Legal Issues in Working with Teachers …


Chapter 9 – INDIRECT SERVICES II Special Topics in Systems-Level Consultation




Chapter 10 – RESEARCH IN THE SCHOOLS Ethical and Legal Issues















This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Copyright © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Published simultaneously in Canada.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222

Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department,

John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008.

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial

damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services.

If legal, accounting, medical, psychological or any other expert assistance is required, the services of a

competent professional person should be sought.

Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. In all instances

where John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is aware of a claim, the product names appear in initial capital or all capital letters. Readers, however, should contact the appropriate companies for more complete information regarding trademarks

and registration.

For general information on our other products and services please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available

in electronic books. For more information about Wiley products, visit our website at

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Jacob, Susan, 1949-

Ethics and law for school psychologists / Susan Jacob, Dawn M. Decker, and Timothy S. Hartshorne.—6th ed. p.



cm. Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-470-57906-0 (cloth); 978-0-470-91087-0 (ePDF); 978-0-470-91088-7 (eMobi); 978-0-470-91089-4 (ePub)

1. School psychologists—Professional ethics—United States. 2. School psychologists—Legal status, laws, etc.— United States. I. Decker, Dawn M. II. Hartshorne, Timothy S. III. Title.

LB3013.6.J33 2011 174’.93717130683—dc22





This book is dedicated to the memory of Tim and Nancy Hartshorne’s children, Michael David Salem Hartshorne (1984-1992) and Katherine Swift Hartshorne


And to the memory of Susan Jacob’s son, Andrew Alan Neal (1982-2009)

The brevity of their lives reminds us just how precious are all children.




There are a number of excellent texts, journal articles, and book chapters on ethics in psychology, legal issues in school psychology, and special education law. However, our experience as school psychology trainers suggested a need for a single sourcebook on ethics and law specifically written to meet the unique needs of the psychologist in the school setting. Consequently, Ethics and Law for School Psychologists was written to provide up-to-date information on ethical principles and standards and law pertinent to the delivery of school psychological services. Our goals for this sixth edition of the book remain unchanged. We hope that the book will continue to be useful as a basic textbook or supplementary text for school psychology students in training and as a resource for practitioners.

As stated in the preface to the first edition, one goal in writing the book was to bring together various ethical and legal guidelines pertinent to the delivery of school psychological services. We also introduce an ethical-legal decision-making model. We concur with the suggestion that the educated practitioner is the best safeguard against ethical-legal problems (Diener & Crandall, 1978; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008). School psychologists with a broad knowledge base of ethics and law are likely to anticipate and prevent problems. Use of a decision-making model allows the practitioner to make informed, well-reasoned choices in resolving problems when they do occur (Eberlein, 1987; McNamara, 2008; Tymchuk, 1986).




Chapter 1 provides an introduction to ethical codes, an ethical-legal decision- making model, and the four broad ethical principles of respect for the dignity and rights of all persons, professional competence and responsibility, honesty and integrity in professional relationships, and responsibility to schools, families, communities, the profession, and society. We also describe ethics committees and sanctions for unethical conduct. Chapter 2 provides an introduction to the legal underpinnings of school-based practice and to public school law that protects the rights of students and their parents. We also address certification and licensure of school psychologists—mechanisms that help to ensure that psychologists meet specified qualifications before they are granted a legal sanction to practice. The chapter closes with a brief discussion of tort liability of schools and practitioners. In Chapter 3, we discuss privacy, informed consent, confidentiality, privileged communication, and record keeping—ethical-legal concerns that cut across all of the school psychologist’s many roles.

The remaining chapters focus on ethical-legal issues associated with specific roles. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the delivery of services to students with disabilities. Psychoeducational assessment within the context of a school psychologist-client relationship is discussed in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 addresses school-based interventions, including classroom interventions for students who require academic and behavioral support to succeed in the general education classroom, and therapeutic interventions such as counseling. Chapters 8 and 9 focus on indirect services. We discuss ethical-legal issues associated with consultative services to teachers and parents in Chapter 8 and systems-level consultation in Chapter 9. A number of special consultation topics are covered in Chapter 9, including the ethical-legal concerns associated with student proficiency assessment programs; school entry and grade retention decisions; efforts to foster safe schools (discipline, school violence prevention, and the problem of harassment and discrimination); and schooling for pupils with other special needs (limited English proficiency, gifted and talented students, and students with communicable diseases). In Chapter 10, ethical-legal issues associated with research are discussed, and Chapter 11 provides a brief overview of issues associated with school-based supervision of school psychologists in training. And, finally, in the Epilogue, we discuss advocacy.




We have chosen to focus on ethical-legal issues of interest to current and future school-based practitioners. Consistent with this focus, we did not include a discussion of issues associated with private practice. Interested readers are encouraged to consult Fisher (2003); Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (2008); Knapp and VandeCreek (2006); and Sales, Miller, and Hall (2005). We also did not address the legal rights of psychologists as employees in the public schools.


There have been a number of changes in codes of ethics and law pertinent to the practice of school psychology since we completed work on the fifth edition in 2006. Perhaps of most importance, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) adopted a revised version of its Principles for Professional Ethics in March 2010, and the language of the new code was incorporated into this edition of the book. In addition, many other changes were made in the content and organization of the book. Chapter 3 includes new material on the management of sensitive private student information and a revised section on privileged communication. Chapters 4 and 5 now address ethical and legal issues in the education of pupils with disabilities. The final federal regulations implementing Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 are cited in Chapter 4, and Chapter 5 was updated to include changes in school law following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008. In this edition, Chapter 6 addresses school psychological assessment of individual students. Chapter 7 was expanded to provide broader coverage of ethical-legal issues in school-based intervention, including a new section on interventions in the general education classroom. A discussion of advocacy appears in the revised Epilogue.

Throughout the text we incorporated citations to recent publications. However, we also continued to cite older works that provided the foundation for more recent scholarship in the area of ethics and law for school psychologists. As Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (2008, p. 524) observed, ignoring important older publications on a topic is disrespectful of the efforts of early scholars. Furthermore, researchers and writers “who pass over earlier work may conclude that they discovered something



fresh and innovative when in fact the same findings were published many years ago.”

An updated instructor ’s manual and Microsoft PowerPoint slides are available for trainers who adopt the textbook. These supplements are available by contacting your John Wiley & Sons sales representative (visit

A number of the changes made in the sixth edition were suggested by readers. We welcome your suggestions for improving future editions of Ethics and Law for School Psychologists. Please contact Susan Jacob, Professor of Psychology, 104 Sloan Hall, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859. E-mail:


This text provides an overview and summary of constitutional, statutory, and case law pertinent to the practice of psychology in the schools. It does not provide a comprehensive or detailed legal analysis of litigation in education or psychology. The material included in the book, particularly the portions on law, is based on our review of the available literature. We are not attorneys. We often consulted the writings of attorneys and legal scholars for guidance in the interpretation of law rather than attempting to interpret it ourselves. However, original sources also were consulted when feasible, and citations have been provided so that interested readers can do the same.

Nothing in this text should be construed as legal advice. School psychology practitioners are encouraged to consult their school attorneys through the appropriate administrative channels when legal questions arise. Our interpretations of ethical codes and standards should not be viewed as reflecting the official opinion of any specific professional association.


Throughout the text, we have included a number of case incidents to illustrate specific principles. Some of the incidents are from case law, some were suggested by practitioners in the field, and others are fictitious. To make it easier for the reader to follow who’s who in the vignettes, we have used the same six school



psychologists throughout the book:

SAM FOSTER worked as a school psychologist for several years and then returned to school to pursue his PsyD degree. He is currently a doctoral intern in a suburban school district.

CARRIE JOHNSON provides school psychological services in a rural area. She faces the special challenges of coping with professional isolation and works in a community where resources are limited.

HANNAH COOK serves as a member of a school psychological services team in a medium-sized city. She is particularly interested in school-based consultative services.

CHARLIE MAXWELL, a school psychologist in a large metropolitan district, is a strong advocate of school efforts to prevent mental health problems.

WANDA ROSE provides services at the preschool and elementary level in a small town. Children, babies, parents, and teachers love Wanda Rose. She has been a school psychology practitioner for many years. Wanda needs an occasional push from her colleagues to keep current with changing practices, however.

PEARL MEADOWS is a school psychologist in a small university town. She works with a diverse student population, including pupils from farm families who live on the district’s outskirts, Native American students from the neighboring Indian reservation, and children from many different cultures whose parents are part of the university community. Pearl also provides on-site supervision to school psychology interns.

SUSAN JACOB DAWN M. DECKER TIMOTHY S. HARTSHORNE Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, Michigan




We would like to acknowledge the research assistance provided by Central Michigan University school psychology program graduate students Megan M. Kleinheksel, Abbie C. Barrett, and Robin Kuhn.

We also extend a special thanks to the editor of the sixth edition, Isabel Pratt, and we are grateful for the excellent copyediting work done by the staff at Cape Cod Compositors. A special thank you also is due to family members for their support during the completion of this and previous editions of the book.



Chapter 1


Because the decisions made by school psychologists have an impact on human lives, and thereby on society, the practice of school psychology rests on the public’s trust. To build and maintain society’s trust in school psychology, it is essential that every school psychologist is sensitive to the ethical and legal components of his or her work, knowledgeable of broad ethical principles and rules of professional conduct, and committed to a proactive stance in ethical thinking and conduct.

The term school psychologist has been defined in many different ways (Fagan & Wise, 2007). For the purposes of this book, we adopted the definition developed by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): “School psychologists provide effective services to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. School psychologists provide direct educational and mental health services for children and youth, as well as work with parents, educators, and other professionals to create supportive learning and social environments for all children” (NASP, 2010a).


A number of sources of quality control are available in the provision of school psychological services. Professional codes of ethics for the delivery of psychological services are discussed in this chapter. Chapter 2 provides an introduction to law that protects the rights of students and their parents in the school setting. Educational law provides a second source of quality control. Chapter 2 also addresses the credentialing of school psychologists, a third mechanism of quality assurance. Credentialing helps to ensure that psychologists meet specified qualifications before they are granted a legal sanction to practice (Fagan & Wise, 2007). Training-program accreditation is an additional mechanism of quality



control. Program accreditation helps to ensure the adequate preparation of school psychologists during their graduate coursework and field experiences. (For a discussion of training-program accreditation, see Fagan & Wise, 2007.)

This chapter focuses on the what and why of professional ethics, ethics training and competencies, and the codes of ethics of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the American Psychological Association (APA). We introduce four broad ethical principles, along with an ethical-legal decision-making model. We also describe ethics committees and sanctions for unethical conduct.


The term ethics generally refers to a system of principles of conduct that guide the behavior of an individual. Ethics derives from the Greek word ethos, meaning character or custom, and the phrase ta ethika, which Plato and Aristotle used to describe their studies of Greek values and ideals (Solomon, 1984). Accordingly,

ethics is first of all a concern for individual character, including what we call “being a good person,” but it is also a concern for the overall character of an entire society, which is still appropriately called its “ethos.” Ethics is participation in, and an understanding of, an ethos, the effort to understand the social rules which govern and limit our behavior. (p. 5)

A system of ethics develops in the context of a particular society or culture and is connected closely to social customs. Ethics is composed of a range of acceptable (or unacceptable) social and personal behaviors, from rules of etiquette to more basic rules of society.

The terms ethics and morality are often used interchangeably. However, according to philosophers, the term morality refers to a subset of ethical rules of special importance. Solomon (1984) suggested that moral principles are “the most basic and inviolable rules of a society.” Moral rules are thought to differ from other aspects of ethics in that they are more important, fundamental, universal, rational, and objective (pp. 6-7). W. D. Ross (1930), a twentieth-century Scottish philosopher, identified a number of moral duties of the ethical person: nonmaleficence, fidelity, beneficence, justice, and autonomy. These moral principles have provided a foundation for the ethical codes of psychologists and other professionals (Bersoff & Koeppl, 1993; also Callan & Callan, 2005).



Our focus here is on applied professional ethics, the application of broad ethical principles and specific rules to the problems that arise in professional practice (Beauchamp & Childress, 2001). Applied ethics in school psychology is, thus, a combination of ethical principles and rules, ranging from more basic rules to rules of professional etiquette, that guide the conduct of the practitioner in his or her professional interactions with others. Furthermore, although school psychologists are employed in a variety of settings, in this text we emphasize the special challenges of school-based practice.

Professionalism and Ethics

Professionalization has been described as:

the process by which an occupation, usually on the basis of a claim to special competence and a concern for the quality of its work and benefits to society, obtains the exclusive right to perform a particular kind of work, to control training criteria and access to the profession, and to determine and evaluate the way the work is to be performed. (Chalk, Frankel, & Chafer, 1980, p. 3)

Professional associations or societies function to promote the profession by publicizing the services offered, safeguarding the rights of professionals, attaining benefits for its members, facilitating the exchange of and development of knowledge, and promoting standards to enhance the quality of professional work by its members (Chalk et al., 1980).

Codes of ethics appear to develop out of the self-interests of the profession and a genuine commitment to protect the interests of persons served. Most professional associations have recognized the need to balance self-interests against concern for the welfare of the consumer. Ethical codes are one mechanism to help ensure that members of a profession will deal justly with the public (Bersoff & Koeppl, 1993; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008).

However, the development of a code of ethics also serves to foster the profession’s self-interests. A code of ethics is an indicator of the profession’s willingness to accept responsibility for defining appropriate conduct and a commitment to self-regulation of members by the profession (Chalk et al., 1980). The adoption of a code of ethics often has been viewed as the hallmark of a profession’s maturity. Ethical codes thus may serve to enhance the prestige of a profession and reduce the perceived need for external regulation and control.

The field of psychology has shown a long-standing commitment to activities that



support and encourage appropriate professional conduct. As will be seen in this chapter, both the NASP and the APA have developed and adopted codes of ethics. These codes are drafted by committees within professional organizations and reflect the beliefs of association members about what constitutes appropriate professional conduct. They serve to protect the public by sensitizing professionals to the ethical aspects of service delivery, educating practitioners about the parameters of appropriate conduct, and helping professionals to monitor their own behavior. Furthermore, the codes of ethics of psychologists can now be accessed using the Internet, and for this reason they also increasingly serve to educate the public and recipients of services about the parameters of expected professional conduct by school psychologists. Finally, professional codes of ethics also provide guidelines for adjudicating complaints (Bowser, 2009; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008).

By encouraging appropriate professional conduct, associations such as the NASP and the APA help to ensure that each person served will receive the highest quality of professional service. As a result, the public’s trust in psychologists and psychology is enhanced and maintained.

Ethical Codes Versus Ethical Conduct

Codes of ethics serve to protect the public. However, ethical conduct is not synonymous with simple conformity to a set of rules outlined in professional codes and standards (J. N. Hughes, 1986). As Kitchener (2000) and others (Bersoff, 1994; J. N. Hughes, 1986; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008) have noted, codes of ethics are imperfect guides to behavior for several reasons. First, ethical codes in psychology are composed of broad, abstract principles along with a number of more specific statements about appropriate professional conduct. They are at times vague and ambiguous (Bersoff, 1994; J. N. Hughes, 1986).

Second, competing ethical principles often apply in a particular situation (Bersoff & Koeppl, 1993; Haas & Malouf, 2005), and specific ethical guidelines may conflict with federal or state law (Kitchener, 2000; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008). In some situations, a primary or overriding consideration can be identified in choosing a course of action. In other situations, however, no one principle involved clearly outweighs the other(s) (Haas & Malouf, 2005). For example, the decision to allow a minor child the freedom to choose or refuse to participate in psychological services often involves a consideration of law, ethical principles (respect for autonomy and self-determination versus the welfare of the child), and the likely practical



consequences of affording choices (enhanced treatment outcomes versus refusal of treatment).

A third reason ethical codes are imperfect is because they tend to be reactive. They frequently fail to address new and emerging ethical issues (Bersoff & Koeppl, 1993; Eberlein, 1987). Committees within professional associations often are formed to study the ways existing codes relate to emerging issues, and codes may be revised in response to new ethical concerns. Concern about the ethics of behavior modification techniques was a focus of the 1970s; in the 1980s, psychologists scrutinized the ethics of computerized psychodiagnostic assessment. In the 1990s, changes in codes of ethics reflected concerns about sexual harassment and fair treatment of individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. In recent years, codes have emphasized the need for practitioner competence in the delivery of services to individuals from diverse experiential, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. Codes also have been scrutinized to ensure relevance to the use of electronic media.

Ethical codes thus provide guidance for the professional in his or her decision making. Ethical conduct, however, involves careful choices based on knowledge of broad ethical principles and code statements, ethical reasoning, and personal values. In many situations, more than one course of action is acceptable. In some situations, no course of action is completely satisfactory. In all situations, the responsibility for ethical conduct rests with the individual practitioner (Eberlein, 1987; Haas, Malouf, & Mayerson, 1986; Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008).


Prior to the late 1970s, many applied psychology graduate programs (e.g., clinical psychology, school psychology) required little formal coursework in professional ethics. Ethics was often taught in the context of supervised practica and internship experiences, a practice Handelsman (1986) labeled “ethics training by ‘osmosis’” (p. 371). A shortcoming of this approach is that student learning is limited by supervisor awareness and knowledge of ethical-legal issues and the types of situations encountered in the course of supervision (Handelsman, 1986). Consensus now exists that ethics, legal aspects of practice, and a problem-solving model need to be explicitly taught during graduate training (Dailor & Jacob, 2010; Haas et al., 1986; Tymchuk, 1985). Both the NASP and the APA graduate program training



standards require coursework in professional ethics. Furthermore, in School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice (Ysseldyke et al., 2006), prepared by a task force composed of leaders in the field, knowledge of the ethical and legal aspects of professional practice was identified as a foundational competency for school psychologists, one that permeates all aspects of the provision of services.

In the 1980s, psychology trainers began to ask, “What should be the goals of ethics education in psychology?” (Haas et al., 1986; Kitchener, 1986); “What are the desired cognitive, affective, and behavioral ‘ethics competencies’ for school psychologists?” More recently, trainers have raised these questions: “How do school psychology students and practitioners gain competence, and ultimately expertise, in ethical decision making?” (Dailor & Jacob, 2010); “How do they gain a sense of themselves as ethical professionals?” (Handelsman, Gottlieb & Knapp, 2005, p. 59); and “How should ethics be taught?” A number of goals for ethics training have been suggested in the literature. An emerging picture of desired competencies includes the following:

• Competent practitioners are sensitive to “the ethical components of their work” and are aware that their actions “have real ethical consequences that can potentially harm as well as help others” (Kitchener, 1986, p. 307; also Welfel & Kitchener, 1992).

• Competent psychologists have a sound working knowledge of the content of codes of ethics, professional standards, and law pertinent to the delivery of services (Fine & Ulrich, 1988; Welfel & Lipsitz, 1984).

• Competent practitioners are committed to a proactive rather than a reactive stance in ethical thinking and conduct (Tymchuk, 1986). They use their broad knowledge of codes of ethics and law along with ethical reasoning skills to anticipate and prevent problems from arising.

• Skilled practitioners are able to analyze the ethical dimensions of a situation and demonstrate a well-developed “ability to reason about ethical issues” (Kitchener, 1986, p. 307). They have mastered and make use of a problem- solving model (de las Fuentes & Willmuth, 2005; McNamara, 2008; Tymchuk, 1981, 1986).

• Competent practitioners recognize that a system of ethical rules and ideals develops in the context of a specific culture, and they are sensitive to the ways their own values and standards for behavior may be similar to or different from those of individuals from other cultural groups. They “strive to understand the manner in which culture influences their own view of others and other ’s view of them” (Ortiz, Flanagan, & Dynda, 2008, p. 1721).

• Competent psychologists are aware of their own feelings and beliefs. They



recognize that personal feelings, beliefs, and values influence professional decision making (Handelsman et al., 2005; Kitchener, 2000).

• Competent practitioners do their best to engage in positive ethics; that is, they strive for excellence rather than meeting minimal obligations outlined in codes of ethics and law (Knapp & VandeCreek, 2006).

• Competent practitioners appreciate the complexity of ethical decisions and are tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty. They acknowledge and accept that there may be more than one appropriate course of action (de las Fuentes & Willmuth, 2005; Kitchener, 2000).

• Competent practitioners have the personal strength to act on decisions made and accept responsibility for their actions (de las Fuentes & Willmuth, 2005; Kitchener, 1986).

Two paradigms describe how students and school psychology practitioners develop ethical competence: the acculturation model (Handelsman et al., 2005) and a stage model (Dreyfus, 1997). Handelsman et al. (2005) describe ethics training of psychology graduate students as a dynamic, multiphase acculturation process.1 They suggested that psychology, as a discipline and profession, has its own culture that encompasses aspirational ethical principles, ethical rules, professional standards, and values. Students develop their own “professional ethical identity” based on a process that optimally results in an adaptive integration of personal moral values and the ethics culture of the profession. Trainees who do not yet have a well- developed personal sense of morality, and those who do not understand and accept critical aspects of the ethics culture of psychology, may have difficulty making good ethical choices as psychologists.

The stage model describes a process whereby practitioners progress through five levels (Dreyfus, 1997). Novice practitioners are rules-bound and slow to make decisions. With some experience in applying rules of practice, advanced beginners become more capable of identifying multiple aspects of a complex situation and taking context into account, but they are still focusing on technical mastery of their skills. Competent practitioners are better able to identify key elements of a situation, see relationships among elements, recognize subtle differences between similar situations, balance skills and empathy, and consider the long-term effects of their decisions. However, because they are more skilled in considering relevant elements, competent practitioners are at times overwhelmed by the complexity of real-world problems. Practitioners who are proficient recognize situational patterns and subtle differences more quickly and they are able to prioritize elements in decision making more effortlessly. Proficient practitioners may not be conscious of the knowledge and thinking processes that provide the foundation for choices. Finally,



because of many experiences with diverse situations, experts are able to rely on past decisions to inform future decisions, base decisions on subtle qualitative distinctions, and often have an intuitive grasp of what needs to be done without extensive analyses. Based on their review of research on the acquisition of expertise, Ericsson and Williams (2007) suggested that expertise is acquired by early supervised practice coupled with deliberate practice over an extended period of time, usually 10 years.

How should ethics be taught? Growing professional support exists for a planned, multilevel approach to training in ethics and law (Conoley & Sullivan, 2002; Dailor & Jacob, 2010; Fine & Ulrich, 1988). Tryon (2000) and others (Jacob-Timm, 1999) recommend that formal coursework in ethics and law be required at the beginning of graduate training to prepare students to participate in discussions of ethical and legal issues throughout their program. Because many aspects of school-based practice are regulated by law as well as ethics, we recommend integrated rather than separate instruction in ethics and law; furthermore, key concepts such as privacy, informed consent, and confidentiality have roots in both ethics and law. A foundational course can introduce students to broad ethical principles, codes of ethics, the major provisions of school law pertinent to practice, and an ethical-legal decision-making model. In addition, Handelsman et al. (2005) recommended that early coursework include activities to heighten self-awareness of personal values and beliefs. For example, they suggest asking students to write an ethics autobiography in which they reflect on their own values, as well as those of their families and cultures of origin, and consider what it means to be an ethical professional (p. 63; also Bashe, Anderson, Handelsman, & Klevansky, 2007). (For a discussion of methods in teaching ethical and legal issues in school psychology, see Williams, Sinko, & Epifanio, 2010).

A foundational course in ethics and law can provide opportunities for students to apply what they are learning about the ethical-legal aspects of practice by role- playing difficult situations and analyzing case incidents (Dailor & Jacob, 2010). However, while such coursework provides a critically important foundation for subsequent training, it is not sufficient to achieve desired practitioner competencies in ethics and law. If students have only one course, they may not be prepared to apply this knowledge across various domains of practice. In order for students to progress beyond the stage of advanced beginner, discussion of ethical-legal issues associated with diverse situations and professional roles must be a component of coursework in assessment, academic remediation, behavioral interventions, counseling, and consultation. For this reason, Tryon (2000) recommended that all graduate program course instructors discuss ethical issues related to their specialty




Supervised field experiences provide a vitally important opportunity for students to apply their knowledge to multiple real-world situations (Harvey & Struzziero, 2008). With appropriate supervisory support, internship is “a prime time to develop ethical frameworks that will be useful throughout a professional career” (Conoley & Sullivan, 2002, p. 135). Field- and university-based supervisors consequently have a special obligation to model sound ethical-legal decision making and to monitor, assist, and support supervisees and early-career practitioners as they first encounter real-world challenges (Conoley & Sullivan, 2002; Handelsman et al., 2005; Harvey & Struzziero, 2008).

Although growing professional support exists for a planned, multilevel approach to graduate preparation in ethics, Dailor (2007) surveyed a nationally representative sample of public school psychology practitioners and found that only 24% of the 208 respondents reported receiving multilevel university ethics training that included all of the following: coursework in ethics, discussion of ethical issues in multiple courses, and supervised discussion of ethical issues in practica and internships.

Only a few empirical investigations of the effectiveness of formal ethics training have appeared in the literature (Tryon, 2001; Welfel, 1992). Baldick (1980) found that clinical and counseling interns who received formal ethics training were better able to identify ethical issues than interns without prior coursework in ethics. Tryon (2001) surveyed school psychology doctoral students from APA-accredited programs and found that students who had taken an ethics course and those who had completed more years of graduate study felt better prepared to deal with the ethical issues presented in the survey than those who had not taken an ethics course and who had completed fewer years of graduate education. Student ratings of their preparedness to deal with ethical issues were positively associated with the number of hours of supervised practicum experience completed. More recently, Dailor (2007) found an association between the types of university training school psychology practitioners had received and their preparedness to handle ethical issues on the job, with those who had received multilevel university preparation in ethics reporting higher levels of preparedness to handle ethical issues. Preparedness was not associated with degree level (doctoral or nondoctoral) or years of experience on the job (five or fewer years versus more than five years).

Several studies, however, have reported a gap between knowledge of the appropriate course of action and willingness to carry out that action (Bernard & Jara, 1986; Smith, McGuire, Abbott, & Blau, 1991; Tryon, 2000). Even when



practitioners can identify what ought to be done, many would choose to do less than they believe they should (Bernard & Jara, 1986). Thus, at this time, additional research is needed to identify the types of ethics training that are most effective in developing the skills and necessary confidence for psychologists to take appropriate actions in ethically difficult situations (Handelsman et al., 2005; Tymchuk, 1985; Welfel, 1992).


D. T. Brown (1979) suggested that school psychology emerged as an identifiable profession in the 1950s. Two professional associations, the APA and the NASP, have shaped the development of the profession. Each professional association has formulated its own code of ethics. Within the APA, Division 16 is the Division of School Psychology.2

APA and NASP Codes of Ethics

In joining the APA or the NASP, members agree to abide by that association’s ethical principles. Additionally, psychologists who are members of the National School Psychologist Certification System and those who are members of state associations affiliated with the NASP are obligated to abide by the NASP’s code of ethics. We believe school psychology practitioners should be thoroughly familiar with the NASP’s (2010a) “Principles for Professional Ethics” and the APA’s (2002) “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct,” whether or not they are members of a professional association. A psychologist with a broad knowledge base of ethical principles may be better prepared to make sound choices when ethically challenging situations arise. Furthermore, regardless of association membership or level of training, trainees and practitioners may be expected to know and abide by both the APA and NASP ethics codes in their work setting (Flanagan, Miller, & Jacob, 2005).

Professional codes of ethics apply “only to psychologists’ activities that are part of their scientific, educational, or professional roles as psychologists . . . . These activities shall be distinguished from the purely private conduct of psychologists, which is not within the purview of the Ethics Code” (APA, 2002, Introduction and Applicability). Similarly, the NASP’s code states: “School psychologists, in their



private lives, are free to pursue their personal interests, except to the degree that those interests compromise professional effectiveness” (III.4.1). The boundaries between professional and personal behaviors are sometimes “fuzzy” (Pipes, Holstein, & Aguirre, 2005, p. 332). For example, when a psychologist engages in socially undesirable behavior in a public setting (e.g., a school psychologist is verbally abusive of the referee at a high school football game), the behavior may negatively impact his or her credibility, diminish trust in school psychologists in general, and confuse students and others who hear about or witness the event. Pipes et al. consequently encourage psychologists to aspire to high standards of ethical conduct in their personal, as well as professional, lives. They also recommended that practitioners think critically about the boundaries between personal and professional relationships and take care to identify when they are speaking “as a matter of personal opinion as opposed to speaking as experts” (p. 329).

NASP’s “Principles for Professional Ethics”

The NASP “Principles for Professional Ethics” (NASP-PPE) was first adopted in 1974 and revised in 1984, 1992, 1997, 2000, and 2010 (also see Williams, Armistead, & Jacob, 2008, for a brief history of the early development of the code). The 2010 code is reprinted in Appendix A. NASP’s code of ethics focuses on the special challenges of school-based practice. School-based practice is defined as “the provision of school psychological services under the authority of a state, regional, or local educational agency” whether the school psychologist “is an employee of the schools or contracted by the schools on a per-case or consultative basis” (NASP-PPE Definition of Terms).

The team of NASP members responsible for drafting the 2010 revision of the “Principles for Professional Ethics” shared a commitment to ensuring that the code, like its precursors, would address the unique circumstances associated with providing school-based psychological services and would emphasize protecting the rights and interests of schoolchildren and youth (NASP-PPE Introduction). More specifically, they attempted to incorporate the following special considerations of school-based practice:

• School psychologists must “balance the authority of parents to make decisions about their children with the needs and rights of those children, and the purposes and authority of schools.” Within this framework, 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). • The mission of schools is to maintain order, ensure pupil safety, and educate children (Burnside v. Byars, 1966). As school employees, “school psychologists have a legal as well as an ethical obligation to take steps to protect all students from reasonably foreseeable risk of harm” (NASP-PPE Introduction).

• As school employees, school psychology practitioners are state actors; that is, their actions are seen to be an extension of the state’s authority to educate children. This creates a special obligation for school psychologists to know and respect the rights of schoolchildren under federal and state law (NASP- PPE Introduction).

• Like other mental health practitioners, school psychologists often provide assessment and intervention services within the framework of an established psychologist-client relationship. However, at other times, as members of a school’s instructional support team, school psychologists may provide consultative services to student assistance teams, classrooms, schools, or other recipients of service that do not fall within the scope of an established psychologist-client relationship (NASP-PPE Definition of Terms). This distinction is particularly important for school practitioners because, in law and ethics, the rules for informed consent are linked to whether services are provided within the context of a school psychologist-client relationship.

• Recent years have witnessed growing interest in better protection of sensitive student information. Partly as a result of changes that have occurred in health care settings, many parents now have a greater expectation of control of physical and mental health information about their children, even when information is to be shared internally in the school setting (Gelfman & Schwab, 2005b; Schwab & Gelfman, 2005a, 2005b; Schwab et al., 2005). In addition, since 1999, many states have broadened the scope of their laws governing privilege to include confidential communications that occur within a school psychologist-client relationship.

• “School-based practitioners work in a context that emphasizes multidisciplinary problem solving and intervention” (NASP-PPE Introduction).

The NASP’s 2010 code of ethics is organized around four broad ethical themes: Respecting the Dignity and Rights of All Persons; Professional Competence and Responsibility; Honesty and Integrity in Professional Relationships; and Responsibility to Schools, Families, Communities, the Profession, and Society. These themes were derived from the literature on ethical principles (e.g., Bersoff &



Koeppl, 1993; Prilleltensky, 1997; W. D. Ross, 1930) and other ethical codes, especially that of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). The four broad themes subsume 17 ethical principles, and each principle is then further articulated by specific standards. The “broad themes, corollary principles, and ethical standards are to be considered in ethical decision making” (NASP-PPE Introduction). However, the broad themes statements are aspirational; NASP will seek to enforce only the 17 ethical principles and associated standards of conduct. NASP’s broad ethical themes, corollary principles, and associated standards of conduct will be discussed in more detail in this and subsequent chapters.

APA’s “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct”

The “Ethical Standards of Psychologists” was first adopted by the APA in 1953. Eight revisions of the APA’s code of ethics were published between 1959 and 1992. The current version, “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (APA-EP), was adopted in 2002 and amended in 2010. (See Appendix B.) The APA’s “Ethical Principles” differs from the NASP’s “Principles for Professional Ethics” in that it was developed for psychologists with training in diverse specialty areas (clinical, industrial-organizational, and school psychology) and who work in a number of different settings (private practice, industry, hospitals and clinics, public schools, university teaching, and research).

The “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” consists of the following sections: Introduction and Applicability, Preamble, General Principles, and Ethical Standards. The General Principles section includes five broadly worded aspirational goals to be considered by psychologists in ethical decision making, and the Ethical Standards section sets forth enforceable rules for conduct. General Principle A, Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, means that psychologists engage in professional actions that are likely to benefit others, or at least do no harm (Flanagan et al., 2005).

Principle B is Fidelity and Responsibility. Consistent with this principle, psychologists build and maintain trust by being aware of and honoring their professional responsibilities to clients and the community. Principle C, Integrity, obligates psychologists to be open and honest in their professional interactions and faithful to the truth and to guard against unclear or unwise commitments. In accordance with Principle D, Justice, school psychologists seek to ensure that all persons have access to and can benefit from what psychology has to offer, and strive for fairness and nondiscrimination in the provision of services. Principle E,



Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity, encourages psychologists to respect the worth of all people and their rights to privacy, confidentiality, autonomy, and self- determination (Flanagan et al., 2005).

The APA’s Ethical Standards (enforceable rules for conduct) are organized into six general sections: Resolving Ethical Issues, Competence, Human Relations, Privacy and Confidentiality, Advertising and Other Public Statements, and Record Keeping and Fees. These are followed by four sections on Education and Training, Research and Publication, Assessment, and Therapy (APA, 2002). (For additional information on the APA’s 2002 ethics code, see C. B. Fisher, 2003; Knapp & VandeCreek, 2006; and Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 2008.)

Professional Models or Guidelines for Service Delivery

Professional models or guidelines for the delivery of school psychological services differ from ethical codes in both scope and intent. The NASP’s A Model of Comprehensive and Integrated Services by School Psychologists (2010a) represents a consensus among practitioners and trainers about the roles and duties of school psychologists, desirable conditions for the effective delivery of services, the components of a comprehensive school psychological services delivery system, and standards for best practices. This document can be used to inform practitioners, students, trainers, administrators, policy makers, and consumers about the nature and scope of appropriate and desirable services. The NASP and the APA seek to ensure that members abide by their respective ethical codes and investigate and adjudicate code violations. In contrast, A Model of Comprehensive and Integrated Services by School Psychologists identifies standards for excellence in the delivery of comprehensive school psychological services, and it is recognized that not all school psychologists or all school psychological service units will be able to meet every identified standard.


The four broad themes that appear in the NASP’s 2010 “Principles for Professional Ethics” provide an organizational framework for the introduction to ethical issues in school psychology in this section of the chapter. As noted previously, these themes also can be found in the literature on ethical principles (e.g., Bersoff &



Koeppl, 1993; Prilleltensky, 1997; W. D. Ross, 1930) and other ethical codes, especially that of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) (2000). In this book we emphasize principles-based ethics. We encourage readers to think about the spirit and intent of broad ethical themes outlined in this section and to enhance their understanding of ethics by becoming familiar with other philosophical systems (see Knapp & VandeCreek, 2006).

Respect for the Dignity of Persons

Psychologists “accept as fundamental the principle of respect for the dignity of persons” (CPA, 2000; also see APA-EP Principle E). “School psychologists are committed to the application of their professional expertise for the purpose of promoting improvement in the quality of life for students, families, and school communities. This objective is pursued in ways that protect the dignity and rights of those involved. School psychologists consider the interests and rights of children and youth to be their highest priority in decision making . . . ” (NASP-PPE Introduction). The general principle of respect for the dignity of all persons encompasses respect for the rights of individuals to self-determination and autonomy, privacy and confidentiality , and fairness and justice (NASP-PPE I; also CPA, 2000).

Self-Determination and Autonomy

“In their words and actions, school psychologists demonstrate respect for the autonomy of persons and their right to self-determination” (NASP-PPE I). They “respect the right of persons to participate in decisions affecting their own welfare” (NASP-PPE I.1).School psychologists apply the ethical principle of respect for self- determination and autonomy to their professional practices by seeking informed consent to establish a school psychologist-client relationship, and by ensuring that the individuals with whom they work have “a voice and a choice” in decisions that affect them.

Except for urgent situations, school psychologists generally seek the informed consent of an adult (the parent or guardian of a child) to establish a school psychologist-client relationship (NASP-PPE I.1.2). They respect the right of the individual providing consent to choose or decline the services offered (NASP-PPE I.1.5). School psychologists also honor, to the maximum extent appropriate, the right of children to assent to or decline school psychological services. (See



Chapters 3 and 7.)

However, when working with children, sometimes it is necessary to balance the rights of self-determination and autonomy against concerns for the welfare of the child. The NASP’s code of ethics states: “Ordinarily, school psychologists seek the student’s assent to services; however, it is ethically permissible to bypass student assent to services if the service is considered to be of direct benefit to the student and/or is required by law” (NASP-PPE I.1.4; also see CPA, 2000). If a child’s assent is not solicited, school psychologists nevertheless ensure that the child is informed about the nature of the services being provided, and is afforded opportunities to participate in decisions that affect him or her (NASP-PPE I.1.4, II.3.11).

As noted previously, school psychologists often provide services within the framework of an established school psychologist-client relationship. However, as members of a school’s instructional support team, practitioners also provide consultative services to student assistance teams, classrooms, or schools that do not fall within the scope of an established school psychologist-client relationship (NASP-PPE Definition of Terms). Thus, while school practitioners encourage parental participation in school decisions affecting their children (NASP-PPE I.1.1, II.3.10), not all of their consultative services require informed parent consent, particularly if the resulting interventions are under the authority of the teacher and within the scope of typical classroom interventions (NASP-PPE I.1.1; also Corrao & Melton, 1988). (See Chapter 7.)

During their careers, school psychologists will encounter dilemmas regarding how to balance the rights of parents to make informed decisions about their children with the rights and needs of those children. For example: Under what circumstances should minors have the right to seek school psychological services on their own, without parent permission? When should a minor be afforded the opportunity to make a choice whether to participate in or refuse the psychological services being offered?

Privacy and Confidentiality

Psychologists “respect the right of persons to choose for themselves whether to disclose their private thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors” (NASP-PPE I.2; also APA-EP Principle E), and every effort is made to avoid undue invasion of privacy (APA-EP Principle E; NASP-PPE I.2.2). School psychologists “do not seek or store private information about clients that is not needed in the provision of services” (NASP-PPE I.2.2; APA-EP 4.04).



Practitioners also use appropriate safeguards to protect the confidentiality of client disclosures. Except for urgent situations, they inform clients of the boundaries of confidentiality at the outset of establishing a school psychologist-client relationship. They seek a shared understanding with clients regarding the types of information that will and will not be shared with third parties and recognize that it may be necessary to discuss how confidential information will be managed at multiple points in an ongoing professional relationship (NASP-PPE I.2.3).

Carrie Johnson (Case 1.1) will assure Joanne that her disclosure of drug use during pregnancy will be held in strict confidence and not shared with anyone else, and not included in Samantha’s school psychology records (NASP-PPE I.2.2; APA- EP 4.04). Carrie recognizes that she has a special ethical obligation to safeguard the confidentiality of sensitive and private medical information (NASP-PPE I.2.7). Furthermore, the information that Joanne disclosed about her pregnancy is not needed for the purpose of determining eligibility for special education services or for planning appropriate educational interventions (NASP-PPE I.2.2, I.2.5), and could have negative repercussions for Joanne and Samantha if made available to others.

In situations in which confidentiality is promised or implied, school psychologists do not reveal information to third parties “without the agreement of a minor child’s parent or legal guardian (or an adult student), except in those situations in which failure to release information would result in danger to the student or others, or where otherwise required by law.” Furthermore, when practitioners share information with third parties, they “discuss and/or release confidential information only for professional purposes and only with persons who have a legitimate need to know” (NASP-PPE I.2.5).

Case 1.1

Samantha’s first- and second-grade teachers observed that she experienced difficulties with concentration and memory. She frequently failed to remember letter sounds and math facts she had previously mastered. Now in third grade, Samantha continues to perform well below grade level even after multiple individualized interventions were attempted in the classroom. Samantha’s mother, Joanne, agrees with the third-grade teacher that Samantha should be evaluated to determine whether she is eligible for special education services.



Carrie Johnson, the school psychologist, meets with Joanne to ensure she is informed about the nature and scope of the psychoeducational evaluation, and to gather information about Samantha’s developmental history. Joanne is employed as a classroom teacher aide at the same small, rural school her daughter attends. In the meeting with Carrie, Joanne discloses that she was involved “with the wrong boyfriend” during her first semester away at college. She “partied a lot, used all kinds of drugs, and got pregnant.” Because she was “too messed up” to realize she was pregnant, she continued to use drugs during the early months of her pregnancy, but then moved back home with her parents and “got straightened out.” Joanne goes on to say, “Please don’t tell anyone about this. I’ve never even told any of my doctors because my mom said it would be difficult for me to get health insurance if drug abuse showed up in my medical records. And if my drug use history gets out at this school—you know how this community is and how people talk—it could hurt Samantha and I might even lose my job.”

The ethical and legal issues of privacy, confidentiality, and privilege will create challenges for practitioners. For example, what information do teachers and other instructional staff need to know about a child’s physical health, mental health, and family background to provide effective individualized instruction? Do parents have a right to know what their child tells a school psychologist? What if a young teenager discloses that he or she is planning to hurt someone or has committed a crime? These issues will be further explored in the chapters ahead.

Fairness and Justice

Respect for the dignity of all persons also encompasses the ethical obligation to ensure fairness, nondiscrimination, and justice. School psychologists “use their expertise to cultivate school climates that are safe and welcoming to all persons regardless of actual or perceived characteristics, including race, ethnicity, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, immigration status, socioeconomic status, primary language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or any other distinguishing characteristics” (NASP-PPE I.3; also APA-EP Principle E). They do not engage in or condone actions or policies that discriminate against persons, including students and their families, other recipients of service, supervisees, and colleagues based on these or any other actual or perceived



characteristics (I.3.1). Furthermore, school psychologists “work to correct school practices that are unjustly discriminatory…” (NASP-PPE I.3.3).

The school psychologist’s obligation to students from diverse cultural, linguistic, and experiential backgrounds goes beyond striving to be impartial and unprejudiced in the delivery of services. Practitioners have an ethical responsibility to actively “pursue awareness and knowledge of how diversity factors may influence child development, behavior, and school learning” (NASP-PPE I.3.2), and to pursue the skills needed to promote the mental health and education of diverse students (NASP- PPE II.1.2). Ignoring or minimizing the importance of characteristics such as ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background may result in approaches that are ineffective and a disservice to children, parents, teachers, and other recipients of services (see NASP-PPE I.3.2; also Erickson Cornish et al., 2008; Esquivel, Lopez, & Nahari, 2007; Jacob, Drevon, Abbuhl, & Taton, 2010; Rogers & Lopez, 2002).

Consistent with the broad ethical principle of justice, school psychologists also “strive to ensure that all children have equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from school programs and that all students and families have access to and can benefit from school psychological services” (NASP-PPE I.3.4, IV; also APA-EP Principle D; Shriberg et al., 2008).

Responsible Caring (Professional Competence and Responsibility)

A shared theme in ethical codes of the helping professions is that of beneficence. Beneficence, or responsible caring, means that psychologists engage in actions that are likely to benefit others, or at least do no harm (CPA, 2000; Welfel & Kitchener, 1992; also APA-EP Principle A; NASP-PPE II). “To do this, school psychologists must practice within the boundaries of their competence, use scientific knowledge from psychology and education to help clients and others make informed choices, and accept responsibility for their work” (NASP-PPE II).


NASP’s code of ethics requires that school psychologists “engage only in practices for which they are qualified and competent” (II.1; also APA-EP 2.01). As noted previously, the term competent generally suggests that the practitioner is able to integrate professional knowledge and skills with an understanding of the client and



situation and make appropriate decisions, based on a consideration of both the immediate and long-term effects (Dreyfus, 1997; also see Barnett, Doll, Younggren, & Rubin, 2007; Kaslow et al., 2007). Practitioners must consider their competence to provide various types of services and to use techniques that are new to them. They also must consider whether they are competent to provide services in light of client characteristics such as age; disability; ethnic, racial, and language background; and sexual orientation and gender identity. Hannah Cook (Case 1.2) needs to seek assistance in evaluating Melissa to ensure a fair and valid assessment. Psychologists who step beyond their competence in assessing children place the student at risk for misdiagnosis, misclassification, miseducation, and possible psychological harm (see Chapter 6).

The students who attend our nation’s schools have become increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, language, national origin, and family composition (Ortiz, 2008). In addition, gay, lesbian, and transgender youth now “come out” at earlier ages than previous generations, often during their middle or high school years (Jacob et al., 2010). Consequently, all practitioners must assess and periodically reassess their competence to provide services to a diverse clientele, and seek the knowledge necessary to provide culturally sensitive services in the schools where they work. Where understanding of age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, language, or socioeconomic status is essential for providing effective services, school psychologists have or obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals (APA-EP 2.01; also NASP-PPE I.3.2).

School psychologists are ethically obligated to “remain current regarding developments in research, training, and professional practices that benefit children, families, and schools. They also understand that professional skill development beyond that of the novice practitioner requires well-planned continuing professional development and professional supervision” (NASP-PPE II.1.4; also APA-EP 2.03). Our codes of ethics encourage practitioners to engage in the lifelong learning that is necessary to achieve and maintain expertise in the field of school psychology. (See Armistead, 2008.)


In all areas of service delivery, school psychologists strive to maximize benefit and avoid doing harm. Consistent with this principle of responsible caring, school



psychologists use the science of psychology to assist students, teachers, parents, and others in making informed choices (APA-EP Preamble; NASP-PPE II). In addition, practitioners monitor the impact of their professional decisions and the consequences of those decisions, work to correct ineffective recommendations, and strive to offset any harmful consequences of decisions made (APA-EP Principle B; NASP-PPE II.2, II.2.2).

Case 1.2

Hannah Cook, school psychologist, received a referral to evaluate Melissa Gardner, a four-year-old. Melissa receives special education and related services because she is hearing impaired; now her parents and teachers have begun to suspect she has learning and emotional problems as well. Hannah has no formal training or supervised experience working with hearing-impaired preschoolers, and she is uncertain how to proceed with the referral.

Under the broad principle of professional competence and responsibility, NASP’s code of ethics has specific standards for responsible assessment and intervention practices (II.3), school-based record keeping (II.4), and use of professional materials (II.5).

Honesty and Integrity in Professional Relationships

A psychologist-client relationship is a fiduciary relationship, that is, one based on trust. To build and maintain trust, school psychologists must demonstrate integrity in professional relationships. The broad principle of integrity encompasses the moral obligations of fidelity, nonmaleficence, and beneficence. Fidelity refers to a continuing faithfulness to the truth and to one’s professional duties (Bersoff & Koeppl, 1993). Practitioners are obligated to be open and honest in their interactions with others and to adhere to their professional promises (CPA, 2000; APA-EP Principle B; NASP-PPE III).

Consistent with the broad principle of honesty in professional relationships, school psychologists provide a forthright explanation of the nature and scope of



their services, roles, and priorities (NASP-PPE III.2). They “explain all professional services to clients in a clear, understandable manner” (NASP-PPE III.2.1). Case 1.3 illustrates the importance of openly defining the parameters of the services to be offered in the school setting. Madeleine has become Hannah’s consultee in this consultant-consultee relationship. Hannah is bound by the obligation and expectation that what is shared and learned in their professional interaction is confidential; she may not share information about her consultee with the principal without Madeleine’s explicit consent to do so.

In defining their job roles to the school community, school psychologists also identify the services they provide and those that are outside the scope of their job roles (NASP-PPE III.2.2; APA-EP Principle E). It is the job role of the building principal, not the school psychologist, to gather information on teacher effectiveness (also NASP-PPE III.2.4). If Hannah violates the confidentiality of the consultative relationship and shares information about Madeleine’s teaching with the school administration, her actions would most likely undermine teacher trust in school psychologists and diminish her ability to work with other teachers in need of consultative services. The ethical issues associated with the consultation role are also discussed in Chapters 8 and 9.

Case 1.3

Madeleine Fine, a new first-grade teacher, asks Hannah Cook, the school psychologist, for some ideas on handling Kevin, a child who has become a behavior problem in the classroom. After observing in the classroom, it is evident to Hannah that Madeleine needs some help working with Kevin and developing effective classroom management strategies. Hannah offers to meet with Madeleine once a week over a six-week period to work on classroom management skills, and Madeleine agrees. Shortly after their third consultation session, the building principal asks Hannah for her assessment of Madeleine’s teaching competence. The principal indicates that she plans to terminate Madeleine during her probationary period if there are problems with her teaching effectiveness. Hannah is not sure how to respond to the principal’s request.

Furthermore, consistent with the general principle of integrity in professional



relationships, psychologists must be honest and straightforward about the boundaries of their competencies (NASP-PPE III.1.1, III.2.1). “Competency levels, education, training, experience, and certification and licensing credentials are accurately represented to clients, recipients of services, and others” (NASP-PPE III.1.1; also APA-EP Principle C). School psychology interns and practicum students identify themselves as such when seeking to establish a school psychologist-client relationship. Practitioners inform clients if they are offering a service that is new to them so that the client can make an informed choice about whether to accept the service. Hannah Cook (Case 1.2) is obligated to inform her supervisor and Melissa’s parents that she has little expertise in the assessment of hearing-impaired preschoolers so that a course of action can be pursued that is in the best interests of the child.

School psychologists also respect and understand the areas of competence of other professionals in their work settings and communities, and they work in full cooperation with others “in relationships based on mutual respect” to meet the needs of students (NASP-PPE III.3; also APA-EP Principle B). As noted previously, school-based practitioners work in a context that emphasizes multidisciplinary problem solving and intervention. Consistent with their professional duties, they “encourage and support the use of all resources to serve the interests of students” (NASP-PPE III.3.1).

In addition, the principle of integrity in professional relationships also requires school psychologists to avoid multiple relationships and conflicts of interest that may interfere with professional effectiveness (NASP-PPE III.4; APA-EP 3.05a). “School psychologists attempt to resolve such situations in a manner that provides greatest benefit to the client” (NASP-PPE III.4.2). Multiple relationships occur when a psychologist is in a professional role with a client and at the same time is in another role with that person or in a relationship with an individual related to or closely associated with the client. The APA’s ethics code states that a psychologist should refrain from entering into a multiple relationship “if it can reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness” in providing services (APA-EP 3.05a; also NASP-PPE III.4.2). For example, it would not be appropriate to provide services to a friend’s child. However, the APA’s code recognizes that multiple relationships are not always unethical. School psychologists must think carefully about whether the existence of multiple roles (e.g., professional, social, business) in relation to a client or his or her family will impair professional objectivity or effectiveness (Flanagan et al., 2005).

Practitioners also avoid conflicts of interest. “When personal beliefs, conflicts of interests, or multiple relationships threaten to diminish professional effectiveness or



would be viewed by the public as inappropriate, school psychologists ask their supervisor for reassignment of responsibilities, or they direct the client to alternative services” (NASP-PPE III.4.2).

Furthermore, school psychologists “do not exploit clients, supervisees, or graduate students through professional relationships or condone these actions by their colleagues. They do not participate in or condone sexual harassment . . . ” (NASP-PPE III.4.3; also see APA-EP 3.02, 3.08). They “do not engage in sexual relationships with individuals over whom they have evaluation authority” and “do not engage in sexual relationships with their current or former pupil-clients; the parents, siblings, or other close family members of current pupil-clients; or current consultees” (NASP-PPE III.4.3; also APA-EP 3.02, 3.08).

Consistent with the general principle of honesty and integrity, psychologists also do not take credit for work that is not their own (APA-EP Principle C; NASP-PPE IV.5.8, IV.5.9). “When publishing or presenting research or other work, school psychologists do not plagiarize the works or ideas of others” (NASP-PPE IV.5.8). Furthermore, they take credit “only for work they have actually performed or to which they have contributed” (APA-EP 8.12; also NASP-PPE IV.5.9).

Responsibility to Schools, Families, Communities, the Profession, and Society

“Psychology functions as a discipline within the context of human society. Psychologists, both in their work and as private citizens, have responsibilities to the societies in which they live and work, such as the neighborhood or city, and to the welfare of all human beings in those societies” (CPA, 2000; also APA-EP Principle B; Prilleltensky, 1991). Consistent with these ideas, the NASP’s fourth broad aspirational principle states:

School psychologists promote healthy school, family, and community environments. They assume a proactive role in identifying social injustices that affect children and schools and strive to reform systems-level patterns of injustice. They maintain the public trust in school psychologists by respecting law and encouraging ethical conduct. School psychologists advance professional excellence by mentoring less experienced practitioners and contributing to the school psychology knowledge base. (NASP-PPE IV)

Under the fourth broad principle of responsibility to schools, families, communities, the profession, and society, NASP’s code of ethics has specific standards for promoting healthy school, family, and community environments



(IV.1); respecting law and the relationship of law and ethics (IV.2); maintaining public trust by self-monitoring and peer monitoring (IV.3); contributing to the profession by mentoring, teaching, and supervision (IV.4); and contributing to the school psychology knowledge base (IV.5).

Charlie’s conduct (Case 1.4) is consistent with our ethical responsibility to speak up for the needs and rights of students even when it is difficult to so (NASP-PPE Introduction) and to use our professional expertise “to promote school, family, and community environments that are safe and healthy for children” (NASP-PPE IV.1). School psychologists are ethically obligated to help ensure that all youth can attend school, learn, and develop their personal identities in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, violence, and abuse (NASP-PPE IV.1.2). Through advocacy and education of staff and students, Charlie will work to foster a school climate that promotes not only understanding and acceptance of individual differences, but also a respect for and valuing of those differences.

In keeping with our responsibilities to the communities in which we live and work, school psychologists know and respect federal and state law and school policies (NASP-PPE IV.2; see “Relationship Between Ethics and Law,” later in this chapter). Also consistent with the broad principle of responsibility to schools, families, communities, the profession, and society, school psychologists monitor their own conduct to ensure that it conforms to high ethical standards, and they monitor the conduct of their professional colleagues. Self- and peer monitoring for ethical compliance safeguards the welfare of others and fosters trust in psychology. If concerns about unethical conduct by another psychologist cannot be resolved informally through a collegial problem-solving process, practitioners take further action appropriate to the situation, such as notifying the practitioner ’s work-site supervisor of their concerns or filing a complaint with a professional ethics committee (NASP-PPE IV.3.3; also APA-EP 1.04). (See “Unethical Conduct,” later in this chapter.)

Case 1.4

After several incidents of harassment of gay teens and students who do not conform to gender-role expectations, Charlie Maxwell, school psychologist, became increasingly convinced that the schools in his district were not a safe or supportive place for lesbian, gay, biattractional, or transgender (LGBT) youth. He began to read about the developmental



needs and challenges of LGBT youth and those questioning (Q) their sexual orientation or gender identity, and he spent time talking with LGBTQ teens about their experiences at school. He then formed alliances with school and community leaders who shared his concerns. Although he will face opposition, Charlie will advocate for districtwide changes to reduce harassment and improve the school climate for LGBTQ youth.

School psychologists also contribute to the profession by mentoring, teaching, and supervision: “As part of their obligation to students, schools, society, and their profession, school psychologists mentor less experienced practitioners and graduate students to assure high quality services, and they serve as role models for sound ethical and professional practices and decision making” (NASP-PPE IV.4).

Finally, psychologists accept the obligation to contribute to the knowledge base of psychology and education in order to further improve services to children, families, and others and, in a more general sense, promote human welfare (CPA, 2000; APA-EP Principle B; NASP-PPE IV.5). For this reason, they are encouraged to participate in, assist in, or conduct and disseminate research (NASP-PPE IV.5). When school psychologists engage in research activities, they “respect the rights, and protect the well-being, of research participants” (NASP-PPE IV.5.2). (See Chapter 10.)


In this section, four broad ethical principles were introduced. The first was respect for the dignity of persons. Consistent with this principle, we value client autonomy and safeguard the client’s right to self-determination, respect client privacy and the confidentiality of disclosures, aspire to fairness in interactions with the client and others, and promote justice in the environments where we work and live. The second broad principle was responsible caring. We engage in actions that are likely to benefit others. To do so, we work within the boundaries of our professional competence and accept responsibility for our actions. The third principle was integrity in professional relationships. We are candid and honest about the nature and scope of the services we offer and work in cooperation with other professionals to meet the needs of children in the schools. The fourth principle was responsibility to schools, families, communities, the profession, and society. We recognize that



our profession exists within the context of society and work to ensure that the science of psychology is used to promote human welfare.


In this portion of the chapter, we address the following questions: What makes a situation ethically challenging? When the needs and rights of multiple parties conflict, is our primary responsibility to the student, parent, teacher, or school system? How do we evaluate whether a course of action is ethical? And how can we make good choices when ethical-legal dilemmas arise?

What Makes a Situation Ethically Challenging?

Jacob-Timm (1999) surveyed school psychology practitioners and asked them to describe ethically challenging situations that they had encountered in their work. She found that ethical-legal dilemmas can be created by situations involving competing ethical principles, conflicts between ethics and law, the conflicting interests of multiple parties, dilemmas inherent in the dual roles of employee and pupil advocate, poor educational practices resulting in potential harm to students, and because it is difficult to decide how broad ethics code statements apply to a particular situation (Jacob-Timm, 1999; also Dailor, 2007). In her more recent survey of school psychology practitioners, Dailor (2007) found that almost three- fourths of the 208 respondents indicated they had encountered at least one of eight types of ethical dilemmas within the previous year. Whereas some ethical dilemmas are quickly and easily resolved, others are troubling and time-consuming (Sinclair, 1998). These findings support the view that, in addition to knowledge of the content of ethical codes, skill in using a systematic decision-making procedure is needed.

Relationship Between Ethics and Law

As noted previously, professional ethics is a combination of broad ethical principles and rules that guide the conduct of a practitioner in his or her professional interactions with others. Law is a body of rules of conduct prescribed by the state that has binding legal force. Both the APA and NASP codes of ethics require



practitioners to know and respect the law (APA-EP Introduction and Applicability; NASP-PPE Introduction, IV.2.2). Professional codes of ethics are generally viewed as requiring decisions that are “more correct or more stringent” than required by law (Ballantine, 1979, p. 636). The APA’s ethics code states that if the code “establishes a higher standard of conduct than is required by law, psychologists must meet that higher ethical standard” (APA-EP Introduction and Applicability; also NASP-PPE Introduction).

In the delivery of school psychological services, practitioners may face decisions involving possible conflicts between codes of ethics and law. In such circumstances, practitioners are encouraged to ask themselves: “Do I understand my legal obligations correctly? What actions does the law specifically require or prohibit (must do, can’t do)? What actions does the law permit (can do)? Even if an action is legal, is it ethical? Do I understand my ethical obligations correctly?” (Knapp, Gottlieb, Berman, & Handelsman, 2007; Stefkovich, 2006).

If the ethical responsibilities of psychologists conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists clarify the nature of the conflict, make known their commitment to their code of ethics, and take steps to resolve the conflict in a responsible manner. The APA code states, “Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights” (APA-EP 1.02, also 1.03; also see NASP-PPE Introduction, IV.2.3). The NASP’s code of ethics states: “When conflicts between ethics and law occur, school psychologists take steps to resolve the conflict through positive, respected, and legal channels. If not able to resolve the conflict in this manner, they may abide by the law, as long as the resulting actions do not violate basic human rights” (NASP-PPE IV.2.3).

Ethical Challenge of Multiple Clients

School psychologists frequently face the challenge of considering the needs and rights of multiple clients and other recipients of services, including children, parents, teachers, and systems (Jacob-Timm, 1999; NASP-PPE Introduction; also see M.A. Fisher, 2009). The Canadian Code of Ethics states, “Although psychologists have a responsibility to respect the dignity of all persons with whom they come in contact in their role as psychologists, the nature of their contract with society demands that their greatest responsibility be to those persons in the most vulnerable position” (CPA, 2000, Principle I). Consistent with the idea that ethical priority should be given to the most vulnerable persons, NASP’s code of ethics states, “School psychologists consider the interest and rights of children and youth



to be their highest priority in decision making, and act as advocates for all students” (NASP-PPE Introduction; also see APA-EP Principle E).

How Do We Evaluate Whether a Course of Action Is Ethical or Unethical?

Ethics involves “making decisions of a moral nature about people and their interactions in society” (Kitchener, 1986, p. 306). Individuals may make choices of a moral nature primarily on an intuitive level or a critical-evaluative level (Hare, 1981; Kitchener, 1986). Choices made on the intuitive level are based on “people’s immediate feeling responses to situations,” along with personal beliefs about what they should or should not do (Kitchener, 1986, p. 309).

Psychologists, however, have special obligations when making ethical choices in the context of a professional relationship (Haas & Malouf, 2005). In the provision of psychological services, decision making on a critical-evaluative level is consistent with sound professional practice. The critical-evaluative level of ethical decision making involves following a systematic procedure. This procedure may involve the exploration of feelings and beliefs, but also includes consideration of general ethical principles and codes of ethics and possibly consultation with colleagues. Psychologists need to be aware of their own feelings and values and how they may influence their decisions (N. D. Hansen & Goldberg, 1999; Newman, 1993). However, reliance on feelings and intuition alone in professional decision making may result in poor decisions or confusion (Kitchener, 1986).

How do we evaluate whether a course of action is ethical or unethical? Haas and Malouf (2005, p. 3) suggested that an act or a decision is likely to be viewed as ethical if it has the following three characteristics: (1) The decision is principled, based on generally accepted ethical principles; (2) the action is a reasoned outcome of a consideration of the principles; and (3) the decision is universalizable, that is, the psychologist would recommend the same course of action to others in a similar situation. The consequences of the course of action chosen must also be considered —namely, will the action chosen result in more good than harm? Evaluation of whether a course of action is ethical thus involves consideration of characteristics of the decision itself (based on accepted principles and universality), the process of decision making (reasoned), and the consequences of the decision.

Knapp and VandeCreek (2006) have called for a greater emphasis on positive ethics in choosing a course of action. A positive approach to ethics encourages psychologists to focus on moral excellence rather than meeting minimal obligations outlined in codes of ethics. Psychologists are encouraged to become familiar with



philosophical systems of ethics, to internalize schemas for moral excellence, and to integrate schemas of moral excellence into their professional decision making.

Eight-Step Problem-Solving Model

Three broad types of ethical-legal challenges arise in professional practice: ethical dilemmas, ethical transgressions, and legal quandaries. Ethical dilemmas occur when “there are good but contradictory ethical reasons to take conflicting and incompatible courses of action” (Knauss, 2001, p. 231; also Beauchamp & Childress, 2001), and may foster moral distress among psychologists (Austin, Rankel, Kagan, Bergum, & Lemermeyer, 2005). Ethical transgressions or violations are those acts that go against professional expectations for ethical conduct and violate enforceable ethics codes. Ethical transgressions can result in harm to students or others and create a problematic situation for colleagues who must decide whether and how to confront the misconduct (Dailor & Jacob, 2010). Finally, disregard for federal or state law can result in infringement of the legal rights of pupils and families; parent-school disputes, especially with regard to special education law; and legal action against the school or school psychologist.

Sinclair (1998) observed that “some ethical decision making is virtually automatic and the individual may not be aware of having made an ethical decision. In other situations, ethical decision making is not automatic but leads rapidly to an easy resolution,” particularly if a clear-cut standard exists. However, “some ethical issues . . . require a time-consuming process of deliberation” (p. 171). Eberlein (1987) and others (Kitchener, 1986; Knapp & VandeCreek, 2006; Tymchuk, 1986) suggested that mastery of an explicit decision-making model or procedure may help the practitioner make informed, well-reasoned choices when dilemmas arise in professional practice. Tymchuk has also noted that in difficult situations the course of action chosen may be challenged. Use of a systematic problem-solving strategy will allow the practitioner to describe how a decision was made. This may afford some protection when difficult decisions come under the scrutiny of others. Furthermore, practitioners may find a systematic decision-making model helpful in anticipating and preventing problems from occurring (Sinclair, 1998).

The following eight-step problem-solving model is adapted from Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (2008, pp. 21-25):

1. Describe the parameters of the situation. 2. Define the potential ethical-legal issues involved. 3. Consult ethical and legal guidelines and district policies that might apply to



the resolution of each issue (N. D. Hansen & Goldberg, 1999). Consider the broad ethical principles as well as specific mandates involved (N. D. Hansen & Goldberg, 1999; Kitchener, 1986).

4. Evaluate the rights, responsibilities, and welfare of all affected parties (e.g., pupil, teachers, classmates, other school staff, parents, siblings). N. D. Hansen and Goldberg (1999) encouraged consideration of the cultural characteristics of affected parties that may be salient to the decision.

5. Generate a list of alternative decisions possible for each issue. 6. Enumerate the consequences of making each decision. Evaluate the short- term, ongoing, and long-term consequences of each possible decision, considering the possible psychological, social, and economic costs to affected parties (Tymchuk, 1986). Eberlein (1987, p. 353) advised consideration of how each possible course of action would “affect the dignity of and the responsible caring for all of the people involved.” Consultation with colleagues may be helpful.

7. Consider any evidence that the various consequences or benefits resulting from each decision will actually occur (i.e., a risk-benefit analysis).

8. Make the decision. Consistent with codes of ethics (APA, NASP), the school psychologist accepts responsibility for the decision made and monitors the consequences of the course of action chosen.

In recent years, a number of ethical decision-making models have appeared in the literature (e.g., McNamara, 2008). Although many appear useful (Barnett, Behnke, Rosenthal, & Koocher, 2007), it is important to recognize that, to date, it has not been established that the use of a decision-making model necessarily improves the quality of practitioner choices (Cottone & Claus, 2000). Dailor (2007) asked school psychology survey participants to identify the types of problem-solving strategies they used when handling difficult situations in the previous year. Less than one- quarter of respondents reported using a systematic decision-making model. Respondents who had received multilevel university training (coursework in ethics, discussion of ethical issues in multiple courses, and supervised discussion of ethical issues in practica and internships) were more likely to report use of a systematic decision-making model than those who had not received multilevel ethics preparation. However, most survey participants indicated that they did consult with colleagues when faced with a challenging situation. Gottlieb (2006) identified best practices in providing consultation to colleagues who are facing a difficult ethical situation.




As noted previously, one of the functions of professional associations is to develop and promote standards to enhance the quality of work by its members (Chalk et al., 1980). By encouraging appropriate professional conduct, associations such as the APA and the NASP strive to ensure that each person served will receive the highest quality of service and, thus, build and maintain public trust in psychology and psychologists. Failure to do so is likely to result in increased external regulation of the profession.

Appropriate professional conduct is defined through the development and frequent revision of codes of ethics and professional standards.

But the presence of a set of ethical principles or rules of conduct is only part, albeit an important one, of the machinery needed to effect self-regulation. The impact of a profession’s ethical principles or rules on its members’ behavior may be negligible . . . without appropriate support activities to encourage proper professional conduct, or the means to detect and investigate possible violations, and to impose sanctions on violators. (Chalk et al., 1980, p. 2)

The APA and NASP support a range of activities designed to educate and sensitize practitioners to the parameters of appropriate professional conduct. Both include ethics coursework as a required component in their standards for graduate training, and each organization disseminates information on professional conduct through publications and the support of symposia. In addition, continued professional training in the area of ethics is required for renewal of a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential, and many states require continuing education credits in ethics for renewal of licensure.

The APA and NASP also each support a standing ethics committee. Ethics committees are made up of volunteer members of the professional association. Ethics committees respond to informal inquiries about ethical issues, investigate complaints about possible code of ethics violations by association members, and attempt to educate and/or impose sanctions on violators.

Ethics Committees and Sanctions

The APA (2001) developed an extensive set of “Rules and Procedures” for



investigation and adjudication of ethical complaints against APA members. According to the “Rules and Procedures,” the primary objectives of the ethics committee are to “maintain ethical conduct by psychologists at the highest professional level, to educate psychologists concerning ethical standards, [and] to endeavor to protect the public against harmful conduct by psychologists” (Part I, #1). The ethics committee investigates complaints alleging violation of the ethics code by APA members. Possible sanctions for ethics violations include issuance of an educative letter, reprimand or censure, expulsion, and stipulated resignation (APA, 2001).

The purpose of the NASP’s Ethical and Professional Practices Committee is: “(1) to promote and maintain ethical conduct by school psychologists, (2) to educate school psychologists regarding NASP ethical standards, and (3) to protect the general well-being of consumers of school psychological services” (NASP, 2008, p. 1). The NASP’s ethics committee responds to questions regarding appropriate professional practices and is committed to resolving concerns informally, if possible. The committee investigates alleged ethical misconduct of NASP members or any psychologist who holds a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential (p. 2). If, after investigation, the committee determines that a violation of NASP’s “Principles for Professional Ethics” has occurred, the committee may require the respondent to engage in remedial activities such as education or training and to provide restitution or apology. The committee also may recommend probation, suspension, or termination of NASP membership, and/or revocation of the NCSP.

The legality of ethical complaint adjudication was tested in court in the case of Marshall v. American Psychological Association (1987). The plaintiff in this case claimed that the APA had no legal right to expel him or to publicize his expulsion from the association following an investigation of ethical misconduct. The court upheld the authority of the APA to expel the plaintiff, noting that he agreed to be bound by the APA’s ethical principles when he joined the association, that the principles were repeatedly published, and that he had detailed hearing rights to respond to any and all charges.

Complaints to Ethics Committees

The APA’s ethics committee periodically publishes an analysis of its actions in the American Psychologist. In 2008, there were 288 inquiries regarding members, 85 complaints against members, and 25 new preliminary cases opened. Complaints



were filed against one member per thousand. Based on categorization of the underlying behaviors (rather than the basis for processing the case), problem areas were sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; nonsexual dual relationships; insurance and fees; child custody; inappropriately controlling clients; inappropriate follow- up/termination; and false, fraudulent, or misleading public statements (APA, 2009).

The NASP’s Ethical and Professional Practices Committee responded to approximately 50 inquires during the 2008-2009 academic year. Two complaints alleging ethical misconduct by NASP members and/or NCSPs were resolved using mediation facilitated by committee members. Two additional complaints were investigated by the committee and resolved, and an appeal by a respondent in a complaint from the previous year also was resolved (McNamara, 2009). In recent years, inquiries to the committee included questions regarding the maintenance and disposal of confidential records, the disclosure of psychiatric diagnoses of students to teachers and other instructional staff, the privileged communication status of disclosures by students in the context of a school psychologist- client relationship, dual relationships with family members of coworkers, consent and information release provisions pertaining to noncustodial parents, the adequacy of supervision and field experiences of school psychology trainees, providing consultation services in the classroom without parent permission, the use of outdated tests, misrepresentation of professional credentials, and conflicts with school administrators about appropriate school psychological professional practices.

Reasons for Unethical Conduct

In her survey of school psychology practitioners, Dailor (2007) found that more than 90% of the respondents in her sample had witnessed at least one of nine types of ethical transgression by a school psychologist within the past year. According to Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (2008), no one profile describes psychologists who become ethics violators. Ethics violations may occur because the psychologist is unaware of the parameters of appropriate conduct or not competent to provide the services being offered. This may occur because the psychologist is poorly trained, is inexperienced, or fails to maintain up-to-date knowledge. Violations also may occur when a psychologist who usually works within the parameters of appropriate practice fails to think through a situation carefully. Some psychologists suffer from emotional problems or situational stressors that impair professional judgment and performance (also see Barnett, Baker, Elman, & Schoener, 2007). Some practitioners lack sensitivity to the needs and rights of others; others may engage in



unethical conduct because they are irresponsible or vengeful. Finally, a few psychologists (fortunately only a few) are self-serving and knowingly put their needs before those of their clients.

Peer Monitoring

Both the APA and the NASP require members to monitor the ethical conduct of their professional colleagues (APA-EP Principle B; NASP-PPE IV, IV.3). Both associations also support attempts to resolve concerns informally before filing a complaint. The NASP’s code of ethics states: “When a school psychologist suspects that another school psychologist or another professional has engaged in unethical practices, he or she attempts to resolve the suspected problem through a collegial problem solving process, if feasible” (NASP-PPE IV.3.2; also see APA-EP 1.04). If, however, an apparent ethical violation cannot be resolved informally, school psychologists take further action appropriate to the situation, such as discussing the situation with a supervisor in the employment setting or other institutional authorities, referral to a professional ethics committee, or referral to a state certification or licensing board (APA-EP 1.05; NASP-PPE IV.3.3). If a decision is made to file an ethics complaint, the appropriate professional organization is contacted for assistance and its procedures for resolving concerns about ethical practices are followed (see APA, 2001; NASP, 2008).

Although most psychologists are aware of their obligation to report unethical practices if the situation cannot be resolved informally, many are reluctant to do so (Pope, Tabachnick, & Keith-Spiegel, 1987). In her study of students’ beliefs about their preparation to deal with ethical issues, Tryon (2001) found that fewer than half of the advanced students in school psychology doctoral programs (fifth year and beyond) believed they were prepared to deal with ethical violations by colleagues. Similarly, Dailor (2007) found that about 25% of public school psychology practitioners had witnessed multiple instances of unethical conduct by a colleague within the past year but only 38% of the respondents perceived themselves to be “very well prepared” to address unethical conduct by colleagues. Survey participants who reported receiving multilevel training in ethics (coursework in ethics, discussion of ethical issues in multiple courses, and supervised discussion of ethical issues during field experiences) were more likely to report that they felt prepared to address unethical conduct by others than those who did not receive multilevel ethics training. Koocher and Keith-Spiegel (2008) provided helpful suggestions for engaging in informal peer monitoring.




Students and practitioners often complain that codes of ethics are bothersome to read, a confusing and boring list of “shoulds” and “should nots.” Wonderly (1989) suggested, however, that codes of ethics in psychology are not so overwhelming if we remember their primary purpose: namely, to protect the public. Professionals do not have rights under a code of ethics, only obligations. We will be exploring those obligations in more detail in the chapters ahead.




Questions for Chapter 1

1. What are the sources of quality control in the provision of school psychological services?

2. What does the term ethics mean? 3. What does the term applied professional ethics mean? 4. Why do professional groups, such as school psychologists, develop a code of ethics?

5. Summarize the desired ethics competencies of school psychology practitioners.

6. Why are codes of ethics imperfect guides to behavior? 7. Summarize the broad ethical principles discussed in Chapter 1. 8. How do you evaluate whether a course of action is ethical? 9. What are some of the reasons for unethical conduct? 10. What are your responsibilities with regard to peer monitoring?


You and a fellow student (a friend) are placed at the same school for your first practicum experience. You are aware that she is a problem drinker, but thus far, she has been able to conceal her problem from the program faculty. You discover that your fellow student drinks before coming to practicum, and you have observed some erratic behavior and poor judgment at the practicum site. What should you do? What will you do? Why? (Adapted from Bernard & Jara, 1986.)


Eberlein (1987) and others have suggested that mastery of an explicit decision- making model or procedure may help the practitioner make well-reasoned ethical choices when difficult situations arise in professional practice. In this chapter, we introduced an eight-step problem-solving model adapted from Koocher and Keith- Spiegel (2008). The incidents that follow are included to provide an opportunity to practice the problem-solving model. At first, use of a decision-making model may seem quite cumbersome. However, it is important for practitioners to remember that ethical decision making “applies to almost everything psychologists do,” and, over



time, if practiced regularly, it is likely to become almost automatic (Tryon, 2000, p. 278).

In the situations described, assume the role of the school psychologist and then follow a decision-making model to determine the course of action most appropriate. Compare your decisions with those of colleagues or fellow students.

1. A few months after Carrie Johnson was hired as the school psychologist in a

rural school district, the district superintendent of schools asked to meet with her. During this meeting, he said, “You’ll be working closely with the principal at Pine Lake. Rumor has it he drinks a lot on the job. He’s been caught twice and fined for driving while intoxicated. I think he’s nuts, and we’ve got to get rid of him. Keep notes on what he says and does. I want a report later.” How should Carrie handle this situation? (Vignette source unknown.)

2. After a series of devastating floods destroyed homes and schools in a nearby community, many Native American families moved into Carrie Johnson’s school district. Carrie began receiving referrals from a number of teachers because the Native American children were having difficulty coping with the loss of their homes and adjusting to their new school and community. Carrie has no experience working with Native American children and their families, or with anyone who had suffered such losses. How should Carrie handle the referrals for assessment and counseling of the Native American pupils now attending her school?

3. As part of her effort to build a strong working relationship with school staff and community members, Hannah Cook joined the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and regularly attends its meetings. During a public meeting of the PTA, a parent openly complained about the treatment her daughter was receiving in a world history class at a school where Hannah is the school psychologist. The parent contended that the history teacher lacked mental stability and consequently was causing her child much anguish. How should Hannah handle this situation? (Adapted from Bailey, 1980.)

4. Michelle Phillips was born with Sanfilippo syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in progressive neurological deterioration and limited life expectancy. No effective treatment for the disorder exists. Wanda Rose, a school psychologist, has worked with the Phillips family since Michelle was diagnosed six years ago, and she has formed a warm working relationship with them. Michelle is now in the third and final phase of the disorder. She is severely mentally impaired, unable to communicate, and unable to sit or walk without support. She has difficulty



swallowing and chokes frequently.

Mr. and Mrs. Phillips have made an appointment with Wanda. They believe

Michelle is experiencing much pain and suffering. Although they want all comfort care to continue for their daughter, they do not want medical interventions that would prolong her life. They have brought along do not resuscitate (DNR) orders (do not institute basic choking rescue) from Michelle’s physician, and they would like Wanda’s help in ensuring that the orders will be honored at school. How should Wanda respond to this situation? (See Schwab & Gelfman, 2005b.)


To learn more about the APA and the NASP, visit their web sites: and

For additional cases to practice use of a problem-solving model, see Williams, Armistead, and Jacob (2008).



Chapter 2


As noted in Chapter 1, codes of ethics are one source of quality control in the provision of school psychological services. This chapter explores two other mechanisms of quality assurance: public school law and the credentialing of school psychologists. We also further explore the legal implications of school-based practice. The term school-based practice means that the school psychologist is an employee of the schools, whether full-time, part-time, or on a per-case or consultative basis. In contrast, the term private practice refers to situations in which a school psychologist enters into an agreement with a client rather than an educational agency to provide services, and the fee for services is the responsibility of the client or his or her representative (NASP-PPE Definition of Terms).

In this chapter the reader will learn that in the United States, state governments, rather than the federal government, have assumed the duty to educate children and the power to do so. This authority to educate children and ensure pupil safety is further delegated by state governments to school boards. When principals, teachers, and school psychologists employed by a school board make decisions in their official roles, such acts are seen as an extension of the authority of state government; in legal parlance, school-based practitioners are considered to be state actors (Russo, 2006).

In our discussions with school psychologists, we have found that the subtle but important differences between school-based practice and private practice (or employment in other nonschool settings) often are misunderstood. Under the U.S. Constitution and federal and state statutory law, pupils and their parents have many legal rights in our public schools. School-based practitioners, as state actors, must know and respect those legal rights. Furthermore, as employees of a school board, school-based practitioners have a legal obligation to protect all students from reasonably foreseeable risk of harm. This duty extends to all students, not just clients (Russo, 2006).




The three basic sources of public school law are the U.S. Constitution, statutes and regulations, and case law. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. All statutes enacted by the U.S. Congress, state governments, and even regulations adopted by boards of education are subject to the provisions of the Constitution (Russo, 2006). The original Constitution outlined the duties and powers of the federal government. Concern that the Constitution provided the foundation for a federal government that was too powerful led to the passage in 1791 of 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was created to provide a more distinct balance of power between the federal government and the states and to safeguard the rights of individual citizens. The remaining amendments, 11th through 26th, were adopted between 1795 and 1971.

No fundamental right to an education is guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution (see San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 1973). Nevertheless, the Constitution has been the foundation for many decisions affecting public school education, including the right to equal educational opportunity, student rights in the school setting, and church-state-school relationships. Portions of the Constitution most pertinent to education law are shown in Exhibit 2.1. The 10th, 14th, 1st, and 4th Amendments are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Exhibit 2.1 The U.S. Constitution: Selected Amendments

Amendment 1

Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press; Rights of Assembly and Petition

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment 4

Search and Arrest Warrants

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no war



rants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment 9

Powers Retained by the People

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment 10

Powers Retained by the States and the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Amendment 14

Civil Rights

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immu nities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The 10th Amendment

The Constitution does not specifically refer to education as a duty of the federal government. Under the 10th Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Thus, under the 10th Amendment, state governments have assumed the duty to educate, the power to tax citizens of the state to finance education, and the power to compel school attendance.

Both federal and state governments have an interest in an “educated citizenry,” as educated citizens are more capable of self-government and of making a positive contribution to community life (Hubsch, 1989). Most states delegate much of the authority for the management of public schools to local school boards. Public



schools consequently are considered to be an arm of the government (Russo, 2006). Thus, when school boards, principals, teachers, and school psychologists make decisions in their official roles, their actions are seen as actions by the state. A public education is considered to be an entitlement given by the state to its citizens under state constitutional or statutory law. On the basis of state law, all children within a state have a legitimate claim of entitlement to a public education. This right to a public education given by state law is considered to be a property right.

The 14th Amendment

As previously noted, the Bill of Rights was passed to ensure a clearer balance of power between the federal government and the states and to safeguard the rights of individual citizens. The 14th Amendment was created to prevent state governments from trespassing on the rights of individual citizens: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . without due process of law.”

Because education is a duty left to the states, the courts have long held the position that “judicial interposition in the operation of the public school system requires care and restraint” (Epperson v. State of Arkansas, 1968). As the Supreme Court stated in Epperson,3 “By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities. Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values” (p. 104).

The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were decades of increasing federal court involvement in school-related issues, however, because of school actions that violated the constitutional rights of students and their parents. Two aspects of the 14th Amendment have been extremely important in decisions regarding schools: the equal protection clause and the requirement for procedural due process.

Equal Protection Clause

The equal protection clause provides that no state shall “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Beginning in the years of the Warren Court (1953-1969), this clause has been interpreted to mean that a state may not make a free public education available to some children but not to others in the state and that the state must provide equal educational opportunity to all citizens within its




In the 1954 landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, the Court made it clear that each state must provide equal educational opportunity to all children in its jurisdiction regardless of race. The Court ruled that the assignment of African American children to separate and inferior public schools is a denial of equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. In two important subsequent cases, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1971, 1972) and Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia (1972), the courts ruled that exclusion of children with handicaps from public school education is a denial of equal protection.

In the years since Brown, the courts have sent an unwavering message to the states that they have a duty to provide equal educational opportunities to all children regardless of race, color, national origin, native language, sex, and disability under the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment equal protection clause also protects the school access rights of pregnant and married students.

Due Process

The 14th Amendment also provides that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Courts have identified two aspects of due process: substantive and procedural. Substantive due process applies to the content of a law. A state may not pass a law that deprives citizens of life, liberty, or property if the law is not related to a legitimate governmental purpose; arbitrary and capricious laws that impact on citizens’ rights will be ruled unconstitutional. In the public schools, substantive due process has been interpreted to mean that school rules restricting student rights must be reasonably related to the purpose of schooling. (See the discussion of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District [1969] later in this chapter.)

Procedural due process means that a state may not take away life, a liberty interest, or a property right without some sort of procedural fairness to safeguard citizens from unfair or wrongful infringement of rights by the government (Reschly & Bersoff, 1999). The requirement for procedural due process applies only to the infringement or deprivation of a liberty or property interest protected by the 14th Amendment; citizens are guaranteed procedural due process only if a substantive liberty or property interest is affected. The specific liberty and property interests protected under the umbrella of the 14th Amendment have been identified in court interpretations of the scope of substantive rights. In Goss v. Lopez (1975),



the Supreme Court held that education is a property right protected by the 14th Amendment.

Procedural due process “is a flexible concept whose precise contours change relative to the nature and gravity of the interest infringed” (Bersoff & Prasse, 1978, p. 402). Notice (being told what action the state proposes to take and the reason for that action) and the opportunity to be heard are basic components of due process when state action may deprive a citizen of a liberty or property interest.

Under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, schools may not suspend or expel children from school (and therefore deprive them of their property interest) without some sort of fair, impartial due process procedures. The due process procedures required for school suspension or expulsion generally do not have to be complex or elaborate but must include notice and the opportunity to be heard (Goss v. Lopez, 1975). (The suspension or expulsion of students with disabilities for more than 10 days requires more formal procedures because of the protections afforded students with disabilities under statutory law. See Chapter 9.)

The due process clause of the 14th Amendment also protects individuals from arbitrary or unwarranted stigmatization by the state that may interfere with the ability to acquire property (Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 1971). More specifically, the courts have ruled that a school may not label a child as “mentally retarded” or “emotionally disturbed” without due process, that is, without some sort of fair decision-making procedure that includes parent notice of the proposed classification and the right to an impartial hearing to protest the classification (see Chapter 4).

As noted previously, the 14th Amendment also protects the basic personal freedoms of citizens outlined in the Bill of Rights from arbitrary infringement by the state. The 1st and 4th Amendments are important sources of fundamental rights.

The 1st and 4th Amendments

In 1969, the Supreme Court decided an important case concerning student rights in the public schools, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. This case involved three students who were suspended from school for violating a school policy prohibiting pupils from wearing black armbands in protest of the war in Vietnam. In Tinker, the Court recognized the need to balance the school’s interest in maintaining discipline in order to foster learning and the fundamental personal freedoms guaranteed citizens in the Bill of Rights. In the Court’s view, the school’s



policy of banning armbands was seen as an unreasonable violation of the students’ constitutional right to freedom of expression because there was no evidence that the silent wearing of armbands interfered with or disrupted the functioning of the school.

Thus, although children in the school setting are not afforded the full range of personal freedoms guaranteed citizens by the Bill of Rights, they do maintain certain fundamental rights in the school setting. In Tinker, the Court stated that “students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution . . . possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect” (p. 511).

Freedom of Speech and Assembly

The 1st Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with the rights of free speech and assembly and freedom of religious choice. In Tinker and subsequent cases, the courts generally have acknowledged the right of students to free speech and assembly, as long as the exercise of those rights does not significantly interfere with or disrupt the functioning of the school. Freedom of speech and assembly can be restricted when their exercise “materially and substantially” interferes with schooling. The right to free speech does not protect the use of “obscene” language, gestures, or materials (see Russo, 2006; also Bethel School Dis. No. 403 v. Fraser, 1986).

Privacy Rights

No “right to privacy” is mentioned expressly in the Constitution. A number of different privacy rights have been carved out of the 1st Amendment concept of “liberty,” 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination, 9th Amendment reservation of rights to the people, and 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure (Hummel, Talbutt, & Alexander, 1985).

In a case that received considerable attention from legal scholars, a federal district court ruled that parents of schoolchildren have a right to be free from the invasion of family privacy by the school (Merriken v. Cressman, 1973; see Chapter 10). This right to privacy was recognized only for the parents or family unit; the courts generally have not recognized an independent student right to privacy in the schools. However, federal education law (e.g., the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA], discussed later in this chapter) now provides some guidance regarding protection of the privacy rights of pupils and their parents.



Under the Constitution, the courts generally have held that students have a 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure in the schools. The courts have ruled that students have a legitimate expectation of privacy rights with regard to their person and possessions, but they have allowed a more lenient standard of “reasonable suspicion” as opposed to “probable cause” for conducting searches in school. (Privacy is discussed further in Chapter 3.)

Freedom of Religion

The 1st Amendment also ensures the basic right to free exercise of religious choice, and, under the 14th Amendment, both Congress and the states are prohibited from passing laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” As Russo (2006) notes, the 1st Amendment is the source of two types of church-school-state cases: those involving the use of public funds for parochial schools and those involving school policies or classroom procedures objected to on religious grounds. (For a discussion of cases involving school-sponsored prayer or other religious activities, see Russo, 2006.)

In general, court interpretations of the 1st Amendment suggest that the state is not allowed to provide funds directly to parochial schools. However, under the “child benefit theory,” the state may provide educational services (e.g., remedial instruction and school psychological services) for pupils attending parochial schools as long as those services directly aid the pupil, they are not used for the purpose of religious instruction, and there is no impermissible entanglement of church and state (Agostini v. Felton, 1997; Wolman v. Walter, 1977).,

"Is this question part of your assignment? We can help"