In the realm of education, ethical practices are paramount for ensuring the well-being and development of students and the broader community. This commitment to ethics is especially critical in special education — a sector that requires intentional support for individuals with disabilities and exceptionalities.
The ethical frameworks in special education differ slightly from those in broader educational contexts, given the unique student needs and challenges that educators face when working with exceptional learners. Graduates of Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Special Education with a concentration in General Curriculum K-12 program are trained to be effective special education professionals guided by ethics.
A Changing Landscape
The National Education Association (NEA) Code of Ethics for Educators emphasizes the importance of a commitment to the well-being, dignity and development of students and an obligation to create safe and inclusive learning environments. This is standard practice, as educators are called upon to maintain the highest standards of professional competence and to treat each student with respect and understanding.
When it comes to students with disabilities, though, the needs are more unique and not always so black-and-white. Special education professionals must consider the following:
- Inclusion and exclusion: Special education professionals must navigate the complex balance between inclusive education and the need for specialized services. This is the case when, for example, “a student’s disability may prevent her inclusion from leading to such meaningful participation, or some may feel the student’s inclusion will prevent other students from obtaining a meaningful educational experience” (The Classroom). Ethical decisions must prioritize the best interests of all the students involved while treating each as individuals.
- Fairness strategies: Educators must employ fairness strategies that address the personal needs of their students — both with or without disabilities. This may involve tailoring instruction, assessments and support services to each student. Aside from this, teachers must also be educated on the ethics and equity of differentiated instruction for some students and not others.
- Use of technology: The ethical use of technology in special education involves ensuring that assistive technologies and digital tools are accessible and appropriate for each student’s needs while respecting students’ privacy and data security. It’s up to the teacher to decide what is also fair regarding technology use and the line between challenging a student and making tasks easier.
Challenges in Special Education
Of course, upholding these ethical standards is not always a breeze, especially because many teachers don’t receive adequate training. “The focus of educators is becoming more about supporting students who face trauma, catastrophic events, multiple disabilities, and special talents, all without the benefit of a clear diagnosis,” point out the authors of Edmementum. “This is leaving general education classroom teachers responsible for a greater need for understanding of student learning that falls outside the realm of a worksheet and basal reader.”
Working with students who have suffered trauma, for example, can be daunting since each child copes with it differently. There needs to be several tools in place to make a student feel comfortable after experiencing trauma. This is work done in psychology, but it’s often up to the teachers to implement strategies to create a safe and supportive learning environment that promotes healing and growth.
For those who are thoughtful about these issues, programs such as Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts in Special Education with a concentration in General Curriculum K-12 can be a great addition to their toolbox.
The program equips educators to lead ethically in special education classrooms. Courses like Foundations of Special Education: Legal & Ethical Aspects of Educating Exceptional Learners and Individualized Education Program Implementation: Alternative Strategies for Teaching Students with Mild Disabilities provide a strong foundation in ethical principles, legal considerations and hands-on approaches to the subject.