Recognizing the Power and Struggle of Our School Counselors
March 8, 2017
School counselors play a critical role in the educational process that enables all Philadelphia students to meet their full potentials. We want to recognize the amazing work that our counselors do -- and honor their struggles by highlighting a vision for how our union can support them.
As counseling professionals, Certified School Counselors are trained not only to support the academic, social/emotional, and career development of students at all grade levels, but also to address the issues of trauma, physical and sexual abuse, addiction, grief and loss, and homelessness which affect so many of our students and families. Counselors are the primary intervention available at school when students experience behavioral health emergencies such as self-harm and suicidal ideation. Counselors work tirelessly with the students under their care to provide positive behavioral support and to promote safe school environments in which children can not only learn, but thrive.
In the past several years, the role of school counselors has been systematically denigrated by the School District of Philadelphia. Every counselor in the district was laid off in June of 2013, leaving our students with no trusted advisors for high school and college selections and no resource to call upon when faced with the small and large problems of everyday urban life. When counselors were recalled over the following two years, sporadically and without regard to seniority, relationships with students and families were severed and school climates deteriorated.
In September of 2014, counselors were informed that the District was not in compliance with state code mandating a district-wide Counseling Curriculum aligned with the standards of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Over many months in 2014 and 2015, counselors gave freely of their time to develop an ASCA-compliant curriculum specific to the needs of our students. However, the district has held counselors to compliance standards which are unattainable given our current conditions -- many counselors split their time across 2-3 schools and serve more than triple the ASCA-recommended caseload. Meanwhile, counselors are formally evaluated twice per year, despite contractual requirement that these evaluations happen once every three years. Some counselors spend most of their days doing non-counseling duties such as prep coverage, lunch duty, and clerical tasks. Worse, some are forced to perform disciplinary duties -- a clear ethical conflict of interest, and one prohibited by the contract.
These conditions are deplorable, but as a union we can do more to collectively take up this fight.
Recognize Philly School Counselors United as a great example of authentic member-driven organizing. Ask how the union can best support and represent them, and promote them as a model for groups within the PFT.
Continue to work with PFT attorneys to pursue all legal avenues to enforce the contractual rights of counselors, including seniority rights and the right to a lunch and a prep period as given to all other members of the teachers’ bargaining unit.
Fight to restore at least one full-time counselor to every school in the district.
Fight for counselors to be recognized as specialized professionals who, like nurses, psychologists, and speech therapists, fulfill defined and important roles which cannot be altered or minimized.
Work to prevent counselors from being used as “extra bodies in the building” to perform classroom coverages and lunch/recess monitoring.
Work to ensure that counselors are not forced to perform disciplinary duties, a clear conflict of interest and violation of ASCA ethical standards.