Cobb counselor: If I can’t address social justice and equity, I can’t help students

She says job requires talking about identity, equity and social and emotional learning
A Cobb school counselor explains how meeting the demands of some parents will hurt students and violate school counselors' ethical standards.

A Cobb school counselor explains how meeting the demands of some parents will hurt students and violate school counselors' ethical standards.

A Cobb school counselor says demands by parents to excise diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory and social and emotional learning from the district cripple the ability of counselors to do their jobs and meet the ethical standards of their profession.

In a guest column today, elementary school counselor Jennifer Susko says meeting the demands of those parents will hurt students and violate the ethical standards of the American School Counselor Association.

By Jennifer Susko

There has been a lot of talk about letters and theories lately. DEI and SEL and CRT. Unfortunately, eliminating the work we do with students that involves diversity, equity and inclusion, social and emotional learning or critical race theory will require the removal of these letters from what school counselors do. A-L-L.

As school counselors, we have ethical standards that we must follow, or we will not maintain our certification. Part of those ethics includes ensuring that ALL students feel affirmed and safe at schools so that they can achieve their potential.

Jennifer Susko

icon to expand image

We cannot do that if we are forbidden to address issues around identity, equity and social and emotional learning. Further, the words that intimidate some and enrage others are all throughout our job descriptions.

For example, the preamble of the ethical standards of the American School Counselor Association that guides our practice states “all students have the right to:

Be respected, be treated with dignity and have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations including but not limited to: ethnic/racial identity, nationality, age, social class, economic status, abilities/disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity, emancipated minors, wards of the state, homeless youth and incarcerated youth. School counselors as social-justice advocates support students from all backgrounds and circumstances…"

ASCA’s position statement defining the role of the school counselor and cultural diversity says, “Through the curriculum of a school counseling program, school counselors can teach tolerance and address the issues of non-violence and social justice on a regular basis.”

See that? Folks might rail against the term, but school counselors address social justice on a regular basis, according to our ethics. ASCA has position statements on several topics involving all the letters folks are trying to ban.

Seeing the statement on critical race theory on Cobb’s website is confusing since district leadership shakes our hands and celebrates us with enthusiasm when we receive the nationally renowned RAMP award from ASCA. For instance, Cobb has distanced itself from No Place for Hate, an anti-bullying and school climate improvement framework beneficial for all students, and is entertaining input from stakeholders asking for things that will isolate and harm some children with certain identities. So why would the district celebrate counselors receiving a highly acclaimed award when these actions go against what the presenting organization mandates from school counselors?

When marginalized students do not feel affirmed or safe in schools, or when we are called on to address identity-based bullying, we cannot adhere to our ethical obligations with magic. It takes expertise. We must have foundational knowledge in certain theories and multicultural counseling competencies to address those needs.

Along the same lines, though, we must do this for white children as well. No part of any theory or research we use in our role includes making white students feel badly about themselves.

However, in my role, I cannot solely address and affirm white students as the parents who spoke at last week’s board meeting are asking us to do. What should I say, as a school counselor, when students come to me to talk about their identity, but their particular background is on a blacklist? “Sorry, friend, somebody’s else’s parents don’t want me to make you feel like you belong here in our school”? Or, “Somebody else’s board member doesn’t want me to design interventions aimed at eliminating the pain you’re experiencing as others harass and insult who you are”?

This is no political agenda. This is about affirming and supporting every single student. I am certain that the Cobb County School District does not want to direct school counselors to behave unethically and outside of ASCA’s guidance. Or tell us it’s okay to ensure positive school culture only for some students.

Attention should be given to the ways in which removing DEI, SEL and anti-racism efforts will hurt school counselors’ ability to serve A-L-L students to prevent asking us to violate ethics.

Author Jennifer Susko is a school counselor.