American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Ethics Roundtable: When Supervisor and Supervisee Disagree

Response by Monica L. Ferguson

Monica L. Ferguson
Speech-Language Pathologist
Fairbanks Northstar Borough School District
Fairbanks, Alaska

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The superviser has placed the speech-language pathologist (SLP) in the difficult position of choosing between legal and ethical responsibility to the child and job security. The SLP has an obligation to provide competent services; therefore, this is more of a legal than an ethical dilemma. The dilemma faced by this SLP is how to address the blatant abuse of supervisory power.

In this case the student is not making progress on IEP goals delivered in the general classroom which address his stuttering syndrome. The recommendation has been made for pull-out therapy to facilitate progress.

When a student is not making progress on IEP goals and objectives, the multidisciplinary team (parents, teachers, specialists, administrators) must review the IEP for necessary modifications, and then determine if the placement is appropriate to facilitate reasonable progress (IDEA, P.L. 105-17, 1997). It is the legal responsibility of the SLP to recommend changes in student placement, if necessary, to facilitate such progress on IEP goals and objectives. It is the ethical responsibility of the SLP to not misrepresent services delivered by making untrue statements or by failing to state important information that should be considered (ASHA Code of Ethics, 1994). The SLP must, therefore, discuss all relevant information and recommendations with the parents and others present at the IEP meeting.

Although the SLP cannot be fired for acting in the best interests of the student, we all know that one's work situation can be made extremely difficult by a disgruntled superviser. Despite the complexity of the problem, the SLP has an ethical and legal obligation to act on behalf of the child. In this situation, the SLP has failed to disclose important information to the parents that David requires a more restrictive placement with pull-out therapy in order to achieve progress with fluency goals.

There are legal and professional protections available for the school-based SLP. However, it is advisable in this situation to first address the problem in a straightforward and professional manner with the superviser.

Ideally, Ms. McCoy should have informed her supervisor prior to the IEP meeting of her legal and ethical responsibility and intentions of reviewing the complete findings of the evaluation and the recommendation for pull-out therapy. Recommendations can then be discussed for an alternative service delivery model which will meet the needs of the child without increasing staffing or district expense. With this alternative model, the general education teacher and SLP share the responsibility for delivering the IEP goals in the general education classroom, thus enabling the SLP to conduct separate pull-out therapy sessions. For example, if the IEP is written for speech-language services 3 times per week, the SLP could provide direct services in a collaborative model with the general education teacher once weekly, and provide consultative services for the additional 2 times per week. The SLP could then conduct pull-out therapy 2 times per week until such time that pull-out therapy is no longer required.

The dilemma faced by the SLP is a difficult one; however, protections are in place if the situation is not resolved by a straightforward communication of the school district's obligation to the child and the discussion of alternative possibilities for service delivery.

To submit cases or to be added to the list of respondents please contact: Helen Sharp Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, 307 WJSHC University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242. Phone: 319-335-6596, fax 319-335-8851, e-mail: helen-sharp@uiowa.edu

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