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Multicultural Counseling & Ethical Issues For School Counselors

by Kristine Tucker

School counselors often face ethical issues when working with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Because of specific cultural values, political preferences, customs and religious beliefs, guidance counselors must address situations carefully to avoid any hint of prejudice. School counselors are required to maintain the highest level of integrity to protect each student's individual rights and must ensure that all students are treated fairly and appropriately.

Personal Bias

School counselors often face ethical issues when their personal belief systems and biases interfere with their counseling responsibilities. School counselors must "refrain from consciously encouraging the counselee's acceptance of values, lifestyles, plans, decisions and beliefs that represent the counselor's personal orientation," according to The American School Counselor Association Ethical Standards for School Counselors. For example, a guidance counselor shouldn't encourage a student to apply to a particular private college because the counselor supports the school's religious beliefs or political values. A school counselor must put aside her personal biases toward all students, but she might be more tempted to persuade or influence a student to abandon unpopular political values or religious customs that go against common American ideals.

Parental Involvement

Some cultures have specific goals and values when it comes to a parent's involvement in their child's education. As a result, school counselors must be sensitive to parental preferences and requests. Because parents have legal rights and responsibilities as they pertain to the care and welfare of their children, counselors must respect cultural differences. For example, certain parents might not want their children to wear shorts for gym class or eat foods offered in the cafeteria. They might oppose co-ed physical education or health courses and insist their children be allowed to take other classes. School counselors must walk the fine line of making sure each student meets state requirements, while providing alternate options whenever possible.

Holidays and Absences

Due to spiritual, religious and cultural differences, school counselors must consider alternative holidays and resulting student absences. Some families celebrate holidays, events and occasions that don't coincide with traditional American holidays, such as the Chinese New Year, Passover, Mahavir Jayanti, Rosh Hashanah and Eid al Adha. Because all students are required to meet attendance requirements, counselors must determine whether absences are excused or unexcused. As long as parents verify that their child's absence was due to a religious or customary event, and the absences don't exceed truancy limits, school counselors often need to make exceptions.

Communicable Diseases

School counselors are often faced with ethical issues that relate to immunizations and communicable diseases. Even though counselors must maintain student confidentiality, they can "disclose information to another student who might be at risk, by having a relationship with a counselee, of contracting a disease that is commonly known to be communicable and fatal," according to the ASCA. International students who attend American schools might not have received American-mandated childhood immunizations. As a result, some may be more susceptible to serious communicable illnesses. School counselors must determine if it's necessary and in the best interest of other students to disclose such information. This also applies to non-multicultural students who didn't have the immunizations for medical or religious reasons.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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