Law Note Addresses Students' Legal Rights

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


NASW's Legal Defense Fund has issued a new law note which reviews legal issues affecting social work practice in schools and under the jurisdictions that control them.

The document, Social Workers and the Legal Rights of Students, provides a history of school social work and a review of school social worker credentials. It also reviews legal rights within the public education system, issues related to the school environment, and issues related to social work services within the school.

"School social workers are significant contributors to the formative years of children in America's schools," the law note states.

"In many school systems across the country, school social workers are among a select group of professionals who are able to address the 'personal and social problems that inhibit a student's ability to learn.' Furthermore, the role of the school social worker has evolved into a link between the family, the school, and the community."

In the section on school social worker credentials, the law note provides an overview of the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services, which was revised in 2002. It also offers an explanation of state licensing and credentialing standards, as well as exemptions from state board of social work licensing requirements.

In addressing legal rights within the public education system, the law note discusses the right to public education. It addresses the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which noted that education is the principal means of teaching children cultural values and vocational or career skills.

The document goes on to review parental rights, including how these rights relate to religious education, home-schooling and mandatory school attendance.

It also reviews the right to special education services and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, including the right to form student groups.

The law note also addresses diversity in schools, noting that "it is paramount to the proper education of children that an open and diverse learning environment is provided for them."

"Social workers are particularly well suited to help students and schools to fulfill this goal, as NASW seeks to promote cultural competency in social work practice," the law note states.

"NASW encourages the implementation of cultural and linguistic competency at the societal level, and charges social workers to help develop policies that 'demand accountability of institutions.'"

The law note also provides a discussion of gender-based rights in schools, including programs that are subject to Title IX, and the substantive protections that Title IX provides as related to athletic programs.

In the section on school environment, the LDF law note offers an in-depth look at harassment and violence in schools.

"NASW policy supports schools' development of comprehensive violence prevention and intervention plans, which may even be required in some jurisdictions," it states.

A section on search and seizure provides guidance and information on schools' rights to conduct searches and probable cause, as well as a summary of a recent legal decision related to strip searches, in which NASW filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

The law note also provides information on drug testing, student dropouts, homeless students, and transporting students in school employees' vehicles.

Issues related to social work services within the school are detailed in the law note, as well. This section includes information about parental consent for treatment as well as confidentiality and information sharing, including sharing information with parents and confidentiality dilemmas.

"School social workers' ability to provide high quality professional services to students will be enhanced by their knowledge of the legal framework in which they practice," the law note concludes.

The document includes two appendices. One provides a state-by-state summary of state statutes and regulations outlining requirements for school social worker certification, including legal citations, statutory languages, and exemptions from social work licensing requirements.

A second appendix offers a list of resources published by the NASW Press which may assist school social workers.

Earlier this year, the Legal Defense Fund published a law note on Social Workers and the Legal Rights of Children which provides information on the legal status of children and on children and court systems.