Virtual Counseling Informed Consent

Houston Public Schools offers individual and small group counseling services by qualified student services professionals to students who are experiencing social, emotional, and/or behavioral challenges that interfere with school performance. While we are remotely/digitally educating our students, student services will continue to remain available to assist students and families with a variety of needs.

Student services team members will be available to connect with students via email, telephone, and/or video chat. If you do not wish for your student to access these services without prior active parental consent, or if you do not wish for your student to participate in certain methods of communication, you will need to contact the building principal via email regarding your request.

The student services team at Houston Public Schools would like to introduce you to our process and protocols for connecting with students and families virtually during distance learning. What follows are the benefits and limitations associated with virtual counseling.

As we all know, this is an unprecedented situation. Using technology to discuss personal and private matters is not the same as doing so face-to-face. We want to remain available to support students with any questions or concerns during distance learning, but there are limitations and exceptions to keep in mind.

First, while we will be doing everything we can on our end to keep our discussions confidential, there is always the possibility that someone else might overhear the conversation. In the worst-case scenario, someone might “hack” into the counseling session. While we don’t think this will occur, it is always a possibility.  What is more likely to occur is that someone else may overhear the conversation. The most common ways that this can happen is by someone leaving a door open or the area you are in is not soundproof enough to prevent voices from being heard by others around. For this reason, it is very important that you do everything possible to ensure that wherever you use your computer or phone is as “safe” as possible. Given the confidential nature of the conversations that may take place neither the staff member nor student/family is permitted to video or audio record the counseling session.

Second, if you are participating in a group discussion of some type, please keep in mind that whatever is shared in confidence is only confidential as long as everyone respects the privacy of all group members. The basic rule of “whatever is said in here, stays in here” also applies in virtual group counseling.

Third, all the other basic rules of safety apply online as it does in person. As always, if anyone shares something that leads the staff member to believe that the someone is hurting the student or that the student is going to hurt herself/himself or someone else, then that information must be shared with other responsible adults and administration to ensure that harm does not occur. This is called mandated reporting, and all members of our student services team are mandated reporters.

Last, at the beginning of the first online contact with a student or family member, we will go over these points and will ask for your agreement to participate along with your understanding of these limitations. That will provide evidence that you understand the limitations of online communication.  We want to do everything we can to make certain that everyone understands the limitations of our conversations virtually and ensure we are as safe as possible during this time of social distancing.

Jill Diana
School Social Worker
Houston Elementary/Preschool

Crystal Sobotta
School Counselor
Houston High School/Summit Learning Center