I hate nightmares!  I don’t often have one, but when I do it seems so real and vivid that I wake up exhausted.  What I really hate are those reoccurring nightmares that end and then pick right back up at the same place. The reason I began this blog talking about nightmares is because we can easily get caught into a reoccurring nightmare in our profession.  Honestly, there have been a few times in my counseling career where I felt like I was in a nightmare.  I would like to say that I always made it through those times unscathed, but that has not always been the case. However, I have learned a lot from making mistakes that I would like to share in this post. 

What are some common mistakes new or even seasoned school counselors make when working with high school students?  Well sisters and brothers, I have had my share!  To save you some grief, I wanted to share some of tips from my own experience and some advice from ASCA to help you avoid a school counselor nightmare. 

Tip #1-Sharing Student information

As a new counselor, it is easy to feel that we should always accommodate parents, grandparents, coaches, colleges, or agencies in which the child is involved.  However, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) puts restrictions on who is privy to information and what information can be released.  The worst thing we can do is release information to the wrong person or release information about a student without the parent’s consent (i.e. transcript to coach without parent consent). According to FERPA, schools can release information to the following parties without written consent from the parents or guardians:

  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.
  • Schools also have the right to disclose directory information such as student name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors, and dates of attendance.  However, parents have the right to request that the school not disclose directory information about them which should be earmarked in the student data system. 

    Here are some other tidbits from FERPA about releasing information:

    Under FERPA, stepparents have the right to educational information if they are in the home on a daily basis, together with the natural parent and child, and the other parent is absent.  If the stepparent is not in the home, they do not have any rights to educational information.

    Noncustodial parents have the right to view educational records unless there is a court order, state statute, or legally binding document forbidding their rights.  Also, check the cumulative folder for this information!!

    Emails can be requested by parents as part of the educational record.  So, you should always be careful what you put in an email!!

    Schools can give information over the phone, but we should always check to make sure that requests are legitimate.

    Case Notes, Educational Records and Subpoenas
    Idaho Tool Kit for School Counselors Regarding FERPA

    Tip #2 Suicidal students

    When a student is reported to be “suicidal” it is always important that you err on the side of caution.  Two court cases emphasize the responsibility of the school counselor in student reported suicides:

    Eisel v. Montgomery County Board of Education (1991)

    In this case, a student was referred to the school counselor for making remarks that she was going to kill herself.  Two school counselors talked to the student and the student denied making any suicidal comments.  Unfortunately, the counselors did not contact the parents nor did she notify the administration and the student committed suicide later in the day.  The Eisel case determined that school counselors have a special duty to protect student from harm.

    Rogers v. Christina School District, et. al (2013)

    A student spoke to his school counselor about his suicidal feelings and his suicide attempt two days before.  The counselor did not contact the student’s grandparents about his attempt and later in the day he hung himself at home.  The Rogers case determined that the counselor was negligent in not contacting the family. 

    So, what is the message for school counselors from the courts?  Always call parents when dealing with suicidal students!

    Suicide Err on the Side of Caution

    Tip #3 Child Abuse

    If a report of abuse is made to you as a counselor, it is important that you follow the protocols set by your county and state.  Sometimes there may be a difference of opinion between the school counselor and the administration of what constitutes abuse; however, the law is clear about reporting abuse.

    Educators and counselors are mandatory child abuse reporters, which means they:

    Have an absolute duty to report.
    Have an obligation to report within 48 hours.
    Are protected as good faith reporting is assumed.
    Understand that there is not a statute of limitations on child abuse reporting.

    The law is clear…you must report child abuse even if your administration does not agree that it is abuse. 

    Don’t let this be you!!

    Principal and school counselor charged in failure to report child abuse in Alabama

    Reporting Abuse

    Tip #4-Confidentiality

    Truly, school counselors walk a fine line between keeping parents informed and betraying the trust of their students. According to ASCA, school counselors have specific roles when it comes to confidentiality. These roles include:

    • Supporting the students right to privacy and protecting confidential information about the student.
    • Providing informed consent to students.
    • Informing students and the family of the limits to confidentiality when:
        Student poses a danger to self or others
        Court orders disclosure of information
    Confidentiality Banners from Danielle Schultz on the School Counseling Store

    These banners can be purchased from the School Counseling Store

    It is important to note that privilege communication is not granted to school counselors by state laws or school boards; therefore, school counselors should keep their personal notes separate from students’ records and not disclose their contents except when privacy exceptions exist (ASCA Confidentiality Position Statement).

    An ethical issue that counselors face in regards to confidentiality and student privacy is disclosure to parents, staff, and administration.  Parents have the legal right to know about their student and school counselors must maintain a positive relationship with their colleagues.  Initially providing information about confidentiality to parents, staff, and administration helps to avoid those uncomfortable moments and you should only share information on a need to know basis. 

    One great example of sharing information on a need to know basis was from an article by Carolyn Stone in ASCA titled Privacy Rights of Same Sex Couples.  In the court case Nguon v. Wolf (2007), a female student sued the school district for outing her to her mother.  The student felt she had privacy at school and was treated unequally when the principal revealed the gender of the other student she was kissing in the hall.  The case provides valuable insight to school counselors:

    • School counselors can be instrumental in educating administration and teachers regarding equity issues when dealing with all students.
    • Students should be consulted before informing parents regarding their sexuality.

    Tip #5-Dealing With Helicopter Parents

    The helicopter parent inspires fear and dread in teachers and school counselors. Over my time as a teacher and school counselor, I have had the pain and pleasure of working with lots of helicopters.  They often demand I do most of their work, they get defensive when they are out of the loop, they always want me to contact the teachers for them, and they often want to go straight to the principal when I tell them no. When you have a helicopter parent, there are three techniques you can use to show them you want to support his or her efforts.

    Helicopter Parent

    1.  Decrease their anxiety about their student by listening to their concerns, focusing on their strengths, inviting their involvement, and initiating positive communication.

    2. Use communication that empowers the student. 

    Instead of saying, “Have you checked the website for senior events”?


    Say, “It would be beneficial for you and Troy to go on the school website and check the dates for all senior events so that he doesn’t miss them”.

    3. Reinforce healthy boundaries by using patience and acceptance.  Though we aim to teach our parents healthy boundaries when working with teachers, we need to maintain our own healthy boundaries when working with helicopter parents.  We can give guidance, but ultimately it is up to the parent to choose their own actions.

    Three Steps for Dealing with Helicopter Parents

     I am sure there are other situations that you have faced as a school counselor and I want to hear about them.  Please feel free to share some of your nightmare situations and any tips!!



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