Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,728,043 articles and books

Record keeping and the school counselor.

A survey of elementary and middle school counselors A school counselor is a counselor and educator who works in schools, and have historically been referred to as "guidance counselors" or "educational counselors," although "Professional School Counselor" is now the preferred term.  revealed confusion and diverse practices regarding the storage, sharing, and destruction of counselors' notes. A literature review found guidelines guidelines, a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks.
 developed at a conference convened by the Russell Sage Russell Sage (4 August 1816 - 22 July 1906) was a financier and politician from New York.

Sage was born at Verona in Oneida County, New York. He received a public school education and worked as a farm hand until he was 15, when he became an errand boy in a grocery conducted
 Foundation in 1969. This article categorizes student data according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 how personal and stable the information is, and it offers clear-cut protocols for the storage, access, and destruction of these data. School counselors would be well served by adopting such guidelines.

School counselors benefit from the ongoing work of the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA ASCA American School Counselor Association
ASCA Australian Shepherd Club of America
ASCA Arab Society of Certified Accountants
ASCA American Swimming Coaches Association
ASCA American Society of Consulting Arborists
ASCA Association of State Correctional Administrators
) Ethics Committee ethics committee A multidisciplinary hospital body composed of a broad spectrum of personnel–eg, physicians, nurses, social workers, priests, and others, which addresses the moral and ethical issues within the hospital. See DNR, Institutional review board. . Confidentiality, legal issues, and ethical decision Real life ethical decisions are studied in sociology and political science and psychology using very different methods than descriptive ethics in ethics (philosophy). Not ethics proper  making are frequently covered in journals, books, conferences, and workshops. On occasion, school counselors are called to testify To provide evidence as a witness, subject to an oath or affirmation, in order to establish a particular fact or set of facts.

Court rules require witnesses to testify about the facts they know that are relevant to the determination of the outcome of the case.
 in court, particularly in cases of child custody The care, control, and maintenance of a child, which a court may award to one of the parents following a Divorce or separation proceeding.

Under most circumstances, state laws provide that biological parents make all decisions that are involved in rearing their
. Because most school counselors are not licensed as mental health professionals, but are certified See certification.  as school personnel, the school counselor cannot guarantee confidentiality. Licensed mental health professionals take great care to thoroughly summarize sum·ma·rize  
intr. & tr.v. sum·ma·rized, sum·ma·riz·ing, sum·ma·riz·es
To make a summary or make a summary of.

 client meetings, both to aid memory between sessions and for the therapist's protection in documenting proposed or actual intervention. Courses and workshops that address the issue of record keeping and confidentiality for school counselors generally warn that keeping detailed notes can lead to the betrayal Betrayal
See also Treachery.

Judas Iscariot

apostle who betrays Jesus. [N.T.: Matthew 26:15]


though engaged, steals his friend Valentine’s beloved, reveals his plot and effects his banishment. [Br.
 of any confidentiality the student may have presumed at the time the counseling session began. Another caution is that any records kept in school are the property of the school and are, therefore, subject to subpoena subpoena (səpē`nə) [Lat.,=under penalty], in law, an order to a witness to appear before a court. A subpoena ad testificandum [Lat. .

This inherent contradiction--the need for confidentiality to properly assist students without the legal protection of confidentiality--has led to some creative solutions for the documentation of one's work with a student. In some cases, these solutions have become common practice, such as maintaining a notebook that is kept on one's person. In order to find clarity on proper documentation that would protect confidentiality, I sought three sources of information: a review of policies and legislation, a literature review, and a survey of school counselors in New Hampshire New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut R. forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E). .

Following are the specific questions that were to be answered through this research: (a) How does one record counseling sessions in accordance Accordance is Bible Study Software for Macintosh developed by OakTree Software, Inc.[]

As well as a standalone program, it is the base software packaged by Zondervan in their Bible Study suites for Macintosh.
 with the law and best practices? (b) What are the regulations and guidelines regarding disclosure for counselors when children who have received services make a transition to other schools? (c) What are the practices regarding obtaining parental permission at the elementary and middle school levels? (d) How long should a counselor maintain data after a child has left the school?


In 1974, the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  Congress enacted the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA FERPA Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (aka the Buckley Amendment)
FERPA Fédération Européenne des Retraités et des Personnes Agées (French) 
). The purpose of this act is to define the rights of parents and students who are 18 years or older regarding the inspection, disclosure of contents, and making revisions of educational records. A student record is defined as a record that is maintained by an educational institution and contains information that is directly related to a student (National Association of Secondary School Principals The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is a United States educational advocacy organization consisting of secondary school principals. To promote excellence among middle school and high school students, NASSP founded and still sponsors the National Honor , 2001). According to Fischer and Sorenson (1996), the definition of student record does not include counselors' personal files if they are entirely private and not made available to others. AS these files are considered to be private, they may not be passed to someone who will permanently take over the duties of the counselor who made the notations.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Education released a manual called Protecting the Privacy of Student Records. It summarizes key laws and regulations regarding record keeping, including FERPA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
This article or section is currently being developed or reviewed.
Some statements may be disputed, incorrect, , biased or otherwise objectionable.
 (IDEA). According to this document, handwritten hand·write  
tr.v. hand·wrote , hand·writ·ten , hand·writ·ing, hand·writes
To write by hand.

[Back-formation from handwritten.]

Adj. 1.
 notes about a student written by a counselor, teacher, or administrator are not considered to be an education record under FERPA and are therefore "not subject to access or disclosure rules" (Cheung, Clements, & Pechman, 1997, p. 16).

Regulations under IDEA are very specific regarding special education records. These regulations were reviewed to determine if there might be implications for school counselors. According to these guidelines, parents must be notified when their child's record is no longer needed, and schools must destroy the information in the record at the parent's request (Cheung et al., 1997). No definition or guidelines are offered as to how a school should determine that a record is not needed.


Confidentiality and Record Keeping

The literature is quite consistent about the nature of confidentiality and privilege as it applies to school counselors (Fischer & Sorenson, 1996; Mitchell, 1991; Swanson, 1983). Confidentiality is the promise to keep what is said private, unless there is a duty to warn duty to warn AIDS A legal concept indicating that a health care provider who learns that an HIV-infected Pt is likely to transmit the virus to another identifiable person must take steps to warn that person . Privilege is a legal status protecting communication from being revealed, even in court. Most states do not grant privilege to school counselors. This has major implications for record keeping.

Swanson (1983) suggested that although counselors' notes are not part of the school record, they are subject to subpoena. Therefore, only data that are necessary should be entered and written in behavioral terms, avoiding "any statements that may be defamatory def·a·ma·tion  
The act of defaming; calumny.

de·fama·tory adj.
" (Swanson, p. 35). Counselors are encouraged to do whatever they can to protect a student's confidentiality before releasing information. A successful argument in courts has been that the testimony contained in the record is hearsay hearsay: see evidence. , there is no proof supporting the testimony; therefore, it has no legal validity (ASCA, 2001; Myrick, 1997; Swanson).

The unofficial un·of·fi·cial
Of or being a drug that is not listed in the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary.
 status of the counselors' notes has implications as well. Sorenson and Chapman (1985) suggested that because federal law states that educational records do not include a counselor's private notes, counselors may share their notes at their discretion. However, once they are shared, they are no longer considered private and are required to be released to parents if such a request is made. This change of status from memory aids to part of the record occurs even if these notes were shared with a school teacher in the same building.

A question among counselors that is frequently asked is whether counselor's notes meet FERPA's requirement of being in the sole possession of the maker if they are kept on school property. In this review, no reference to this question was found.

Destruction of Counselors' Notes

School counselors' notes are not part of the school record, but because a counselor may be called to testify in court regarding a student, the question arises of how long a school counselor's notes should be kept. In 1969, the Russell Sage Foundation sponsored a conference of educators, policymakers, and attorneys to study the issue of school records, record-keeping practices, and ethics. The report from this conference, Guidelines for the Collection, Maintenance and Dissemination dissemination Medtalk The spread of a pernicious process–eg, CA, acute infection Oncology Metastasis, see there  of Pupil Records (Russell Sage Foundation, 1970), offers clear standards for school counselors to follow when questions arise regarding how long documentation should be retained. These guidelines classify clas·si·fy  
tr.v. clas·si·fied, clas·si·fy·ing, clas·si·fies
1. To arrange or organize according to class or category.

2. To designate (a document, for example) as confidential, secret, or top secret.
 data according to three categories and suggest how long information in each group should be kept. Class A data include basic identifying information, attendance records, and academic achievement data, which would make up the permanent record. Class B data include test data, health records, family background information, and observations or data regarding behavior that would be eliminated either when the student moved to a new school or graduated from high school. Class C information includes counselors' or teachers' notes, or documentation regarding a temporary situation such as disciplinary issues. These would be removed and destroyed after their usefulness had expired.

Some of the literature addresses destruction of school records, but not private notes directly. Sealander, Schwiebert, Oren, and Weekley (1999) reported that, according to federal law, school records may be destroyed after 5 years as long as there is no outstanding request to inspect or review them, or "after they are no longer needed for education purposes" (p. 125). According to an interpretation of FERPA by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (2001), school records can be destroyed when appropriate, with the same conditions as cited by Sealander et al. The implications for the school counselor are difficult to determine.

Literature directly related to therapists offered guidelines concerning mental health law, including agency review, insurance audits, and other factors that are not part of the practice of the school counselor (Mitchell, 1991). Record-keeping guidelines published by the American Psychological Association The American Psychological Association (APA) is a professional organization representing psychology in the US. Description and history
The association has around 150,000 members and an annual budget of around $70m.
 (APA (All Points Addressable) Refers to an array (bitmapped screen, matrix, etc.) in which all bits or cells can be individually manipulated.

APA - Application Portability Architecture
) suggest that complete records be maintained for 3 years after last contact with the client and summaries maintained for an additional 12 years (APA, 1993).

The national standards of ASCA (Campbell & Dahir, 1997) delineate the various functions of the school counselor, including individual and group counseling. They do not address the issues of documentation, purging Purging
The use of vomiting, diuretics, or laxatives to clear the stomach and intestines after a binge.

Mentioned in: Anorexia Nervosa

purging (purj´ing),
 records, how long notes should be kept, or even the ongoing question as to whether the location of notes affects whether they are private or part of the school's record. However, the organization released a position statement on the professional school counselor and confidentiality (ASCA, 2002), which recommends that counselors periodically review information obtained from students and retain only what is currently relevant. The paper goes on to recommend that school counselors encourage school district administrators to develop guidelines relevant to all school records and that local counseling associations push for legal guidelines regarding the same. Again, because counselors' notes are not legally educational records according to FERPA, it is hard to know how to develop these policies and laws.


In addition to the literature review and the research on school and mental health laws and policies, a third source of information for this project was 14 interviews (and the author's practices) with school counselors in the state of New Hampshire to determine what their record-keeping practices are and how they interpret policies and guidelines. Participating counselors all demonstrated a commitment to professional development, as evidenced by their leadership in school counseling organizations, frequent participation in workshops and conferences, and/or supervision of interns This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
Mark blatant advertising for , using .
 from local graduate programs in school counseling. Because high school counselors frequently are responsible for the maintenance of school records, which have clearly defined protocols, this survey was limited to counselors working at the elementary or middle school level. These counselors come from 15 schools in 11 school districts around the state.

The counselors were asked the following questions: How do you document your work? How long do you keep your record (notes)? How do you obtain parental permission? And, what type of information is given to or received from other schools? A more complete description of the results can be obtained from the author upon request. A summary of the findings follows.


The sample included counselors with a wide range of experience. Three counselors were in their first 2 years in the field, 4 had worked as school counselors for 3 to 9 years, and 8 had 10 or more years of experience. Two participants were male and 13 female. Eight counselors surveyed worked at the elementary level, 6 at the middle school level, and one split her time at both levels. Four counselors had worked at their current school district for more than 10 years, 6 counselors for 3 to 9 years, and 5 were in their 1st or 2nd year at their school district.


The school counselors surveyed documented their work in seven different ways. Most used more than one method; 2 counselors used three methods. These methods follow, in order of frequency:

* Daily log or planner; file cards; computer file (floppy disk) (n = 10)

* Files that contain some of the following: notes, forms (parental permission or release of information), communication with parents, students' artifacts artifacts

see specimen artifacts.
 (drawings), and yearly summaries of work with the child (n = 7)

* A notebook to log students seen, consultations, reason for contact, and outcome (n = 4)

* A student information sheet that includes counseling goals and notes (n = 2)

* Monthly reports regarding students seen, parent contacts, and teacher consultations (n = 1).

Nine counselors reported that they assumed their files or notes could be subpoenaed, and therefore they kept notes very brief, used no quotes, and were careful about what they documented. Four reported that they kept their notes at home or on their person at all times.

Destroying Files or Notes

Nine counselors reported keeping their records until the student leaves the school; 2 reported keeping their notes forever. Others reported keeping their notes for 1 year to 3 years after the student leaves school, for 5 years, or for 10 years. Several mentioned that notes regarding suicide gestures Suicide gesture
Attempted suicide characterized by a low-lethality method, low level of intent or planning, and little physical damage. Pseudocide is another term for a suicide gesture.

Mentioned in: Suicide
 or major behavioral or disciplinary issues would be kept for a longer period.

Parental Permission

Eight of the respondents In the context of marketing research, a representative sample drawn from a larger population of people from whom information is collected and used to develop or confirm marketing strategy.  obtained written parental permission. Four telephoned parents if there was to be ongoing contact with a student. Three schools state in their student handbook that counseling is available to all, thereby offering blanket permission for counseling unless the parent contacts the school requesting no services be offered by the counselor. Of these, one counselor contacts the parent if there is to be ongoing contact.

Information Sent to Other Schools

When a student moves to the middle or high school, 8 out of the 15 counselors reported meeting with members of the receiving school to discuss the students with whom they worked. Of these, 2 discussed all of the students from the school. One counselor would make a list of all the students seen, with a statement pertaining per·tain  
intr.v. per·tained, per·tain·ing, per·tains
1. To have reference; relate: evidence that pertains to the accident.

 to each about the reason services were rendered. Another would send a summary of work upon receipt of parental permission for the same. Two would send their files containing written communication, permission for counseling forms, and a summary; no personal notes would be sent. Three counselors reported sending no information to the receiving school.

Information Received by the Middle School

Two of the middle-school counselors interviewed worked in a school district where an elementary counselor from the same district was included in this survey. However, since they received documentation from more than one school, their responses are included in this section.

Two of the counselors received files from the feeder schools Feeder school is a name applied to schools, colleges, universities, or other educational institutions that provide a significant number of graduates who intend to continue their studies at specific schools, or even in specific fields. . Some of these schools would send files containing personal notes or a counseling summary. Other schools would send a file on every student; of these, some might be empty. One would meet with the receiving school to review student files and course choices, while in another case, confidential placement cards would be received documenting course placement and notes about work habits and behavior issues. One counselor has done both; one has met regularly with counselors and special education personnel throughout the school year.


An inherent source of confusion is the fact that there are laws and guidelines for school records that do not include counselors' files. Therefore, issues regarding the retention of notes kept by counselors fall into an ill-defined area. The most useful guidelines were offered by the Russell Sage Foundation more than 30 years ago, but they appear to not have been adopted by educational agencies or professional associations.

A surprising outcome of the school counselor survey was the many different ways in which counselors document their work, and the fact that 11 out of 15 have used more than one method in their practice. One might argue that this practice is consistent with the recommendations offered by the Russell Sage Foundation, which offers three levels of record keeping and different time periods for retention of records.

There was a noticeable variety in the methods of obtaining parental permission. Some schools have adopted the philosophy that guidance is an inherent part of the educational experience; therefore, school counselors do not need to seek parental permission for counseling. Others require formal, written permission. The latter may stem from an understanding that these students are minors receiving counseling, whereas the former encompasses the comprehensive aspect of the school counseling program.

The practice of sharing information with other schools ranges from sending personal notes to sharing no information. If, as Sorenson and Chapman (1985) have suggested, information shared by a counselor becomes part of the school record, then the implications of sharing information among school personnel need to be more carefully explored and articulated.


Although it is striking the way interpretations vary about how the school counselor can best keep records that safeguard the practitioner and protect the confidentiality of the student, it should be noted that 15 respondents to a survey is a small sample. All of the respondents worked at elementary and middle schools, an intentional in·ten·tion·al  
1. Done deliberately; intended: an intentional slight. See Synonyms at voluntary.

2. Having to do with intention.
 restriction to avoid confusion between student cumulative files and documentation of counselor contact for other than academic review. All of these counselors were employed in the same small Northeastern state, which also limits the generalization gen·er·al·i·za·tion
1. The act or an instance of generalizing.

2. A principle, a statement, or an idea having general application.
 of the responses reported.


For all of these areas--parental permission, documentation, retention, and sharing of information--counselors in this survey have availed themselves of information obtained in the literature or at workshops. They have aligned their practice with their interpretation of how best to offer quality counseling services and maintain confidentiality. Most of the counselors surveyed offered at some point during the interview that they were not sure that their practice was correct, but it was consistent with their understanding of their professional ethics professional ethics,
n the rules governing the conduct, transactions, and relationships within a profession and among its publics.

professional ethics liability,
n 1.
 and laws. Practicing school counselors would greatly benefit from the adoption of protocols for record keeping by ASCA.


American Psychological Association. (1993). Record keeping guidelines. American Psychologist The American Psychologist is the official journal of the American Psychological Association. It contains archival documents and articles covering current issues in psychology, the science and practice of psychology, and psychology's contribution to public policy. , 48, 984-986.

American School Counselor Association. (2001).The professional school counselor and confidentiality. In American School Counselor Association 2001-2002 membership directory and resource guide (pp. 47-48). Gainesville, FL: Naylor Publications, Inc.

American School Counselor Association. (2002). Position statement: Confidentiality (Rev.). Retrieved January 25, 2005, from contentid=198

Campbell, C. A., & Dahir, C. A. (1997). The national standards for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.

Cheung, O., Clements, B., & Pechman, E. (1997). Protecting the privacy of student records. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as part of the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), collects, analyzes, and publishes statistics on education and public school district finance information in the United States; conducts studies .

Fischer, L., & Sorenson, G. P. (1996). School law for counselors, psychologists and social workers (3rd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Mitchell, R. W. (1991). Documentation in counseling records (ACA ACA - Application Control Architecture  Legal Series, Vol. 2). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association The American Counseling Association (ACA) is a non-profit, professional organization that is dedicated to the counseling profession. ACA is the world's second largest association exclusively representing professional counselors. .

Myrick, R. D. (1997). Developmental guidance and counseling guidance and counseling, concept that institutions, especially schools, should promote the efficient and happy lives of individuals by helping them adjust to social realities. : A practical approach (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation.

National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2001, Spring). FERPA--The keys to compliance. Legal memorandum. Reston, VA: Author.

Russell Sage Foundation. (1970). Guidelines for the collection, maintenance and dissemination of pupil records. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Author.

Sealander, K. A., Schwiebert, V. L., Oren, T. A., & Weekley, J. L. (1999). Confidentiality and the law. Professional School Counseling, 3, 122-127.

Sorenson, G. P., & Chapman, D.W. (1985). School compliance with federal law concerning the release of student records. Educational Evaluation Educational evaluation is the evaluation process of characterizing and appraising some aspect/s of an educational process.

There are two common purposes in educational evaluation which are, at times, in conflict with one another.
 and Policy Analysis, 7, 9-18.

Swanson, C. D. (1983). The law and the counselor. In J. A. Brown & R. H. Pate, Jr. (Eds.), Being a counselor: Directions and challenges (pp. 26-41). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Lynn Merlone is a school counselor at Jaffrey Grade School, Rindge, NH. E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2005 American School Counselor Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Merlone, Lynn
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Previous Article:Today's lesson by ... Roosevelt? The use of character portrayal in classroom guidance.
Next Article:An editor's Top Ten Wish List.

Related Articles
Classroom meetings: encouraging a climate of cooperation.
Web-based resources for legal and ethical issues in school counseling.
Helping students improve academic achievement and school success behavior.
Defining and examining school counselor advocacy.
The development of a self-assessment instrument to measure a school district's readiness to implement the ASCA National Model.
School counselors and student assessment.
Using comparison groups in school counseling research: a primer.
Action research and school counseling: closing the gap between research and practice.
Producing evidence to show counseling effectiveness in the schools.
Research methods in school counseling: a summary for the practitioner.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters