IJA - Confidentiality in Counseling/Disclosure of Confidential Student Information**
The main purpose of privacy and confidentiality in the school guidance/counselor setting is to offer students a relationship in which they will be able to deal with what concerns them without fear of embarrassment, discipline or retaliation for the disclosure; therefore, it is the professional responsibility of school counselor to:
- Maintain in strict confidence communications received from a student in a counseling session unless legal requirements demand that confidential communications be disclosed or a breach of confidentiality is required to present serious and foreseeable harm to the student or other individuals.
- Maintain in strict confidence personally identifiable information about or received from a student unless legal requirements demand that confidential information be disclosed or a breach of confidentiality is required to prevent serious and foreseeable harm to the student or other individuals.
- Recognize that their primary obligation is to maintain confidentiality with their students but to also balance that obligation with an understanding of parents or guardians’ legal and inherent rights to be a guiding voice in their children’s lives.
- Explain the limits of confidentiality to students by verbal notification and to parents, school staff and the public through multiple methods such as letters home, student handbooks, school counselor department websites and school counseling brochures.
- To attempt to obtain informed consent from a student, prior to disclosing confidential information or communications. Informed consent requires competence, voluntariness and knowledge on the part of the student and, therefore, can be difficult to obtain from students of certain developmental levels, English-language learners and special needs populations.
- Use the most appropriate and least intrusive method to breach confidentiality, if such action is warranted. The child’s developmental age and the circumstances requiring the breach must be considered. If appropriate under the circumstances, students should be engaged in a discussion about the method and timing of any proposed breach of confidentiality.
- If subpoenaed or volunteering to give testimony in any judicial or administrative hearing, consult with the administration before appearing in order to determine the authority and limits upon the school counselor to disclose confidential communications from a student or personally identifiable information about a student.
- When the school counselor’s testimony or case notes are subpoenaed, request of the court that disclosure not be required if the release of confidential information is contrary to law or may potentially harm a student or the counseling relationship.
- Protect the confidentiality of students’ records and release of personally identifiable information in accordance with federal and state laws and school board policies.
- Recognize the potential for inadvertent disclosure of confidential information in electronic communications and only transmit student information electronically in a way that follows the District’s security standards and meets federal and state laws or regulations.
- When practical and prudent, convey a student’s highly sensitive information (e.g., a student’s suicidal ideation) through personal contact - not less-secure means such as an electronic message.
A student’s expectation of privacy and confidentiality in a school guidance/counselor relationship must be abridged when there is a clear and present danger to the student or others. In such cases, it is the professional responsibility of each school counselor to:
- Support student and inform parents or guardians or appropriate authorities when a school counselor develops a concern that a student poses a serious and foreseeable risk of harm to self or others. When feasible, this should be done after careful deliberation and consultation with administrative staff and other appropriate professionals. In most cases, the risk of not giving parents or guardians or appropriate authorities a chance to intervene on behalf of the child or others outweighs the need to preserve confidentiality. Even if the danger appears relatively remote, parents or guardians or appropriate authorities should be notified.
- Not release a student who, in the professional opinion of the school counselor, poses a danger to self or others until the student has proper and necessary support. If parents or guardians will not provide proper support, the school counselor should report the situation to child protective services.
- Report to parents or guardians and/or appropriate authorities when a student discloses a previously perpetrated act or presently contemplated act that poses a current threat to their physical or mental well-being or that of others. This threat may include, but is not limited to, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, dating violence, bullying or sexual harassment. The school counselor must follow applicable federal and state laws and school district policy regarding mandatory reporting of all suspected child abuse cases.
- Provide information to an identified third party who, by his/her relationship with the student, is at a high risk of contracting a communicable disease. Disclosure requires satisfaction of all of the following conditions:
- The student identifies the partner or the partner is highly identifiable;
- The school counselor advises the student to notify the partner and refrain from further high-risk behavior;
- The student refuses;
- The school counselor informs the student of the counselor’s intent to notify the partner; and
- The school counselor consults with the administration as to the legalities of informing the partner.
- Use risk assessments with caution. If assessments are recommended by the school counselor to determine the possibility that a student may harm himself or herself or others, then an intervention plan should be developed in conjunction with the assessment. When reporting risk assessment results to parents, guardians or authorities, school counselors and school psychologists should not negate the risk of harm even if the assessment reveals a low risk as students may minimize risk to avoid further scrutiny and/or parental notification. School psychologists should report risk assessment results to parents to underscore the need to act on behalf of a child that the school psychologist believes is at risk for further harm to self or others. Risk assessments should not be used to assure parents or guardians that their child is not at risk, which is something a school counselor or psychologist cannot know with certainty.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. Section 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99 (2000).
Protection of Pupil Rights, 20 U.S.C. section 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98 (2000)