Schools have a duty to protect student confidentiality - Albuquerque Journal

Schools have a duty to protect student confidentiality

At GLSEN New Mexico we firmly believe in parents’/guardians’ rights, as well as students’ and educators’ rights. For us, the tabling of the parents’ rights policy was a major positive outcome at the APS Policy Committee Meeting: the understanding that all parties in the education of our children have rights and responsibilities and need to be involved when creating policies around such tenets.

Students, educators and other critical parties have historically been removed from the conversation regarding policies in educational spaces, and the result too frequently creates policies that do not work. The APS parental rights policy is the latest example of this exclusion. The 6-1 vote by the committee to table the policy and take the time to include all essential parties shows a commitment to an inclusive policy respecting everyone involved.

We’d also like to clarify a misunderstanding about the current policies regarding student records and the perceived danger in the policy’s statement that parents would have access to all student records, including counseling records.

At present, there are some conversations between a student and a counselor or social worker that have not historically been shared with a parent/guardian. Such professionals have a duty to protect the confidentiality of a student with regard to a number of issues including, but not limited to, sexuality, spirituality, pregnancy, orientation, gender, problems at home, struggles with class work, and other topics a student might not seek counsel for if they knew what they said might be shared with a parent/guardian. The duty to report is very specific for all educators when they suspect abuse or neglect, or imminent harm. Otherwise, counselors’ and social workers’ ethical standards require confidentiality be maintained.

The proposed policy made no mention of this and by omitting it did raise the speculation of students having information shared that they were not comfortable sharing with parents/guardians. At GLSEN we are especially concerned that a school’s efforts to support a student who identifies as LGBTQ would result in the student being outed to a parent/guardian who is not supportive. We’d all like to live in a world where all parents/guardians support their child’s self-exploration without judgment, but unfortunately that is not the world we live in.

We at GLSEN New Mexico want to ensure all parties’ rights are being considered, including students, educators and parents/guardians. We want to create and maintain safer spaces for all youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth whose voices are often left out of conversations that directly impact them. We stand with students, educators and parents/ guardians and will continue to ensure all voices are heard in policy creation.

This op-ed was part of a point/counterpoint feature. To read an opposing viewpoint, click here.

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