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Running head: CASE STUDY

Case Study - Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008) Kathy Ng San Diego State University

Case Study Case Study Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008)

School counselors are held against strict professional ethical standards and must abide by district, state and federal laws and regulations. On occasions, these professional standards and laws may come in conflict and place the school counselor in difficult situations filled with gray areas. In more unfortunate instances, we can be acting in ethical and lawful ways but still be penalized for our actions. The case of Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006/2008) illustrates the unfortunate truth that a school counselor who lacks tact and insight to politics and bureaucracies can undermine his or her own agenda. The ultimate victim of such frictions is students for whom the counselor advocates. According to the court memoranda on Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. (2006) and Stone (2010), N.W. comes to the Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S. district with many years of experience as a registered nurse and school counselor. N.W. has provided care to mentallydisabled individuals sixteen years old to adults. N.W. was assigned to B.O.C.E.S. High School Crisis Room in 2001. She later split her workload between the Crisis Room and RESTART program (helps students who recently completed drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs transition back into school). During the two academic years, 2001 2002 and 2002 2003, N.W. received favorable reviews for the work she performed during her probationary period. In academic year 2003 2004, the third and last year of N.W.s probationary period, N.W. was placed at the new B.O.C.E.S. Cornwall Satellite. J.M., a principal that N.W. has previously worked with, is the Cornwall Satellites principal. However, J.M. manages the Cornwall Satellite off-site. The on-site administrator was an administration student intern, N.T who had no experience in administration.

Case Study Trouble began in fall of 2003 when N.W. noticed that the school is not in compliance

with state laws and violated students individual education plans (IEPs) by not having a certified gym instructor. N.T. responded that the school is in process of hiring a certified gym instructor. During this time, N.W. also raised concerns about the safety of and whether placement at Cornwall was appropriate for a specific student who had escalating violent behaviors. N.W. had left multiple messages on J.M. and N.T.s phones in their absences and received no response. In January 2004, N.W. again notified N.T. that the school is not in compliance by not having a certified gym instructor and certified art instructor. N.T. responded that the district had not contracted with the school for use of gym facilities. N.T. made no comment on the concern regarding art instructor. It was also during this time that a crisis involving the aforementioned student and the absence of N.T. and J.M. that led N.W., the school counselor, to contact the pupil services administrator for immediate assistance. During conversation with the pupil services administrator, N.W. also expressed concerns regarding N.T. and J.M.s lack of responsiveness. N.W. was later twice reprimanded for taking it upon [herself] to go out of process. In March, N.W. was informed that she would not be recommended for tenure and should resign in lieu of being terminated so that she may use the previous favorable reviews for employment. N.W. chose to resign. N.W. contended that her First Amendment rights to free speech was violated by B.O.C.E.S. and she was constructively terminated, meaning that N.W. was set up to be discharged as retaliation (Stone, 2010; Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S., 2006). In order to prove that the N.W.s First Amendment right was violated, N.W. must establish the following: a) her speech was constitutionally protected, b) she suffered an adverse employment action, and

Case Study c) her speech and actions caused the adverse employment action (Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S., 2006, 2008). The court ruled in favor of the district for three important reasons. First, N.W.s speech is not protected by the First Amendment because she was acting in her professional duties and responsibilities as a school counselor, not a private citizen with public concerns. First

Amendment protects only private citizen against government action and does not apply to speech made by public employees during their course of duties. Second, N.W. did not suffer adverse employment action because she resigned and was not terminated by the district. Last, N.W. could not establish causation between her speech and the alleged constructive termination because Principal J.M. was not aware of N.W.s statements to the pupil services administrator that portrayed J.M. and N.T. in a negative light. In this instance, N.W. acted in accordance with American School Counselor Associations professional ethical standards E.2.a and E.2.g (2010) by acting as an advocate for her students and colleagues. She violated no laws during her course of action such as submitting complaints to her supervisors and later to a higher authority when no changes were seen. However, it is glaringly evident that her actions were not well-received by administrators whom she must work with to effect the changes she wishes to see in the school. Rather than only making complaints to her supervisors, the school counselor should clearly state the consequences of leaving these problems unresolved and actively participate in the problem-solving process. When N.W. sought assistance from higher authority, she should keep the focus on the student she needs to assist rather than use the moment as a Segway to make complaints against administrators and appear opportunistic.

Case Study This case was a wake-up call for me. A school counselor can be acting in legally, ethically and morally upstanding ways and still undermine her efforts to advocate in the best interest of her students and colleagues. In N.W.s case, it was not what she wanted to accomplish but rather the manner in which she attempt to realize her visions that caused the rift between her and the administrators. N.W. unknowingly sabotaged her own efforts to advocate for her students by lacking the political and interpersonal tact required to gain support of the administration. School counselors who are on probation should be particularly mindful because they may simply not be granted tenure, which is considered to be legally different from termination. The courts ruling and strict standard for the burden of proof to be on N.W. had made it difficult for N.W. to prove that administrators violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and add to court cases that ruled in favor of school districts against employees. School counselors are in the unique position to observe systematic inequalities and advocate to administrators on their students behalf. Many situations leave the counselor caught in ethical and legal gray areas, but even the most clear-cut issues can lead counselors down a

path where they find themselves in legal quagmire. School counselors should be aware of ethical standards and district, state and federal laws and regulations as well as strategies to collaborate with administrators and colleagues in productive ways. If we fail to consider any of these points, our students will suffer not only an inequitable system but also the loss of an ally who advocates on their behalf.

Case Study Reference American School Counselor Association. (2010). Ethical Standards for school counselors. Alexandria, VA:ASCA. Stone, C. B. & Zirkel, P. A. (2010). School Counselor Advocacy: When Law and Ethics May Collide. Professional School Counseling, 13(4), 244 247. Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S., 04-5800-cv. (2006). Retrieved from:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16743417593899797050&q=Woodlock+v. +Orange+Ulster+BOCES&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1&scilh=0 Woodlock v. Orange Ulster B.O.C.E.S., 06-3412-cv. (2008). Retrieved from: http://www.statecourtwatch.org/hypo/woodlock.pdf