Ethics and Technology
Response to Pfohl—Part I
By Susan Jacob & Leigh Armistead
As members of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) code of
ethics revision team, we are pleased to see Dr. Pfohl’s (2010a, 2010b) two-part
commentary on “Ethics and Technology” in Communiqué. It will very likely
generate interest in the new code. We concur with his observations that NASP’s ethics
code does not provide detailed standards with respect to prohibited and permitted
behaviors in the area of electronic communication and record keeping or the use
of computer-assisted assessment, intervention, or research. Perhaps we can provide
some background to help readers understand why that is the case.
The multistage process to revise NASP’s standards began in 2007. The goal of the
team responsible for revising NASP’s code of ethics was to create a code designed
to protect the public trust in school psychologists by identifying both broad ethical
principles and specific standards to guide school psychology practitioners in ethical
decision making, with special attention to the unique circumstances associated with
school-based practice. The preparation of early drafts of the new code began by soliciting
suggestions from focus groups composed of NASP leaders and members and by
e-mails to NASP membership. In addition to considering these suggestions, the revision
team also conducted research to gain up-to-date knowledge about ethical issues
in psychology. They reviewed relevant scholarly literature and the codes of ethics of
other associations, studies of ethical problems experienced by school psychologists
and the types of queries to NASP’s Ethics Committee, changes in law that impact the
practice of school psychology, and articles on the emerging roles of school psychologists.
Beginning fall 2009, drafts of a proposed new code were critiqued by targeted
NASP and external school psychology stakeholder groups. After revisions based on
this input, NASP members were invited to provide feedback via a Web-based call for
comments. These critiques were extremely important to the revision process. The final
draft of the revised Principles for Professional Ethics was adopted in March 2010.
The ethics code revision group debated the extent to which we would attempt to
provide specific guidance regarding the use of technology. However, we determined
that the purpose of a code of ethics is to identify aspirational principles and enforceable
standards to assist school psychologists in making sound ethical choices. Codes of
ethics are imperfect as guidelines for decision making because they must be applicable
to the many different roles, activities, and employment settings of school psychologists.
In addition, they must be broad enough to provide useful guidance following technological
advances. We also agree with Pfohl that school psychologists could benefit from
specific guidelines for the use of technology in their professional practices. However,
the development of such guidelines is outside the scope of the role and responsibilities
of NASP’s Ethics Committee.
Consequently, we invite NASP’s Computer & Technological Applications Interest
Group to draft a position statement or guidelines for the use of technology in school
psychology. We encourage them to craft such guidelines carefully because of the unique
considerations of school-based as compared to nonschool practice. For example, the
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), not the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), generally applies to the student education
records of school psychologists in elementary and secondary (K–12) schools that
receive federal funds. In contrast, HIPAA generally applies to protected health information
in nonschool settings (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S.
Department of Education, 2008). Special education laws provide somewhat greater protection
for the education records of students with disabilities than FERPA and should
be considered in developing guidelines for the electronic sharing, storage, and disposal
of personally identifiable student information in K–12 schools (Daggett, 2008). Furthermore,
because public education is a state matter, consideration of the variations in privacy
protection for student education records (paper or electronic) across states will be
critically important (Stuart, 2005), along with acknowledgement that school districts
may—or may not—have their own comprehensive policies regarding the electronic transmission
and management of personally identifiable student information (e.g., Schwab, Rubin, et al., 2005; Stuart, 2005; Washoe County School District, 2009). The references
below may be of assistance in drafting guidelines for the use of technology in communication
and record keeping. Additional references for the use of technology in assessment,
intervention, and research will be provided in Part II of this article.
References and Resources
American Psychological Association. (2007).
Record keeping guidelines. American Psychologist,
Armistead, L., Williams, B. B., & Jacob, S. (2011).
Professional ethics for school psychologists:
A problem-solving model casebook (2nd ed).
Bethesda, MD: National Association of School
Daggett, L. M. (2008). FERPA on the twentyfirst
century: Failure to effectively regulate
privacy for all students. Catholic University Law
Review, 58, 59–113.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
of 1974, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part
99. FERPA regulations were amended in
2008 (Federal Register, Vol. 73, No. 237, pp.
Gonsiorek, J. C. (2008). Informed consent can
solve some confidentiality dilemmas but others
remain. Professional Psychology: Research
and Practice, 39, 374–375.
Jacob, S., Decker, D. M., & Hartshorne, T. S.
(2011). Ethics and law for school psychologists
(6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Chapter 3 addresses
school record keeping and includes
a section on “Technology in Communication
and Record Keeping.”
Lehavot, K., Barnett, J. E., & Powers, D. (2010).
Psychotherapy, professional relationships, and
ethical considerations in the MySpace generation.
Professional Psychology: Research and
Practice, 41, 160–166.
National Association of School Psychologists.
(2010). Standards for school psychology: Ethical
and professional practices for school psychologists.
Bethesda, MD: Author. Electronic versions
of the Principles for Professional Ethics
and the Model for Comprehensive and Integrated
School Psychological Services are available
Pfohl, B. (2010a). Ethics and technology–Part I.
Communiqué, 39(3), 32.
Pfohl, B. (2010b). Ethics and technology–Part II.
Communiqué, 39(4), 34.
S. A. by L. A. and M. A. v. Tulare County Office
of Education. 12 FAB 37, 53 IDELR 143, 109
LRP 63200. (U.S. District Court, Eastern District
of California, 2009). Only e-mail messages
that are placed in a student’s education
record are considered “maintained” and an
education record as defined by FERPA. (Contrast
with Washoe below).
Schwab, N. C., & Gelfman, M. H. B. (Eds.).
(2005). Legal issues in school health services: A
resource for school administrators, school attorneys,
school nurses. New York: Authors Choice
Schwab, N. C., Rubin, M., Maire, J. A., Gelfman,
M. H. B., Bergren, M. D., Mazyck, D., & Hine,
B. (2005). Protecting and disclosing student
health information: How to develop school district
policies and procedures. Kent, OH: American
School Health Association. This booklet
provides an excellent “starting point” for
advocating for district policies that protect
sensitive student information.
Stuart, S. P. (2005). A local distinction: State
education privacy laws for public schoolchildren.
West Virginia Law Review, 108, 361–394.
Taylor, L., McMinn, M. R., Bufford, & Chang, K.
B. T. (2010). Psychologist’s attitudes and
ethical concerns regarding the use of social
networking web sites. Professional Psychology:
Research and Practice, 41, 153–159.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
& U.S. Department of Education. (2008, November).
Joint guidance on the application of
the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
(FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability
and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to student
health records. Retrieved from http://www
pdf. HHS together with DOE determined
that FERPA provides adequate privacy
protection for elementary and secondary education
records and that HIPAA privacy rules
generally do not apply to elementary and secondary
education records protected by FERPA.
Additional information about HIPAA can be
found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa
Washoe County School District. (2009).
13 FAB 10, 109 LRP 78026. Retrieved November
11, 2010, from http://www.specialed
connection.com. Results of a state-level hearing
concluded that, under FERPA and IDEA, a
school district must notify parents of a child
with a disability prior to permanently removing
e-mail messages about their son from its
server. The judge/administrator noted that
the district “lacked policies regulating managing
e-mails that are education records and
establishing how staff would inform parents
when personally identifiable information was
no longer needed“ (from Case Summary).
(Contrast with S. A. by L. A. and M. A. v. Tulare
County Office of Education).