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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, 62, 993–1004.

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 Psychologists.

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. 74851–74855).

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 from http://www.nasponline.org/ standards/index.aspx

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 Press.

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 .ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/doc/ferpa-hippaguidance. 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).