By Patrick O'Connor
I was working on some last-minute college applications today, and nothing was going to distract me from them. Students who came by to see me were asked to come back later, and phone calls went straight to voice mail. Nothing was going to keep me from getting these applications out early, but then an ambulance siren blared up to my office window and cut out abruptly, meaning it was in the school parking lot…
…and suddenly, the applications could wait.
Fortunately, everything was fine—but school counselors everywhere are feeling that way about their work this week, as the headlines unravel two human relationship stories that give everyone in our profession pause. A presidential candidate and football coaches are accused of everything from bad judgment to blatant abuse of others, and suddenly the college applications, the report card reviews, and the study skills seminar are on hold—there are other issues to consider.
The headlines are beyond our influence, but they serve as important reminders of the duty we owe our students, our parents, our colleagues, and our community. While requirements vary from state to state, all school personnel are held to high standards when it comes to reporting suspected abuse of any kind—verbal, physical, psychological, and sexual. If you can’t remember the last all-building meeting—not a memo—on the topic of Duty to Report, it’s time to head to the principal’s office and set one up.
There are three important factors to consider. First, this has to do with all school personnel—not just teachers or certified school counselors. Depending on the state, anyone who works in a school—secretaries, janitors, bus drivers, college counselors, lunch workers, and yes, coaches who come to work after school-- are all required to know the law and act on it.
Second, this is about suspecting abuse. If a situation gives you any reason to think abuse could be occurring, you must report that suspicion. You don’t need stone cold proof; you just need that bad feeling that won’t go away; make the call, so the state has the opportunity to protect that child. If you think there’s more to do, that comes next, but this comes first.
Third—and this seems to be the issue that made headline news-- most Duty laws do not allow you to transfer the obligation by reporting to a supervisor. If you suspect a student is being abused, most states don’t let you off the hook by telling your boss—you have to tell your boss and report it to the state yourself. In most cases, this report is anonymous; in each case, it’s an important step in protecting a student and the community.
It’s been too long since the music and film industries surrendered any claim to the title of Builders of Strong Male Minds, and now amateur sports and political leaders are walking away from this same duty. With so many men embracing all varieties of “Whatever” as their life motto, counselors everywhere wonder how today’s boys will become tomorrow’s men if there is no one to point out the path and inspire them to stay on it.
This week’s news gives them two more reasons to give up hope, but one simple trip to the principal’s office can jump start your school to explore meetings, programs, discussions, and behavioral changes that can point out a better way for them, and for all of us.
You’ve got this article, you’ve got a printer, and you’ve got the same choice the headline makers apparently had. Which will it be—what’s best, or whatever?