Ethics refers to the moral principles that serve as governing influences on the behavior of an individual or which influence the completion of an activity (Venkatadurai, Dhyani, & Sharma, 2014). The application of ethics can occur from a personal standpoint, or it can be applied in a broader sense, looking at the actions taken by that individual, or by a group of individuals, or even an organization. When exploring the concept of ethics in relation to administrative activities, public sector ethics or administrative ethics adopt a three pronged approach to determining the morality of the actions taken or interactions occurring within the given context (Koven, 2016). The question of ethics within the public sector centers around the application of utilitarianism, looking at the consequences of the action being taken; deontology, focusing on whether the actions are inherently right or wrong; and the virtue of the individual making the decisions, how his or her character plays a role in the decision making process (Koven, 2016).
In order to explore the application of the ethical decision making process within the context of a real world setting, two individuals working in the City of Chicago School District #299 were asked a series of interview questions in order to gain a better understanding of how ethics play a role in the school community relations process. A Chicago Public Schools community relations manager (CPSCRM) and a local high school principal agreed to participate in the informal interview process. A series of six questions were asked of the two individuals in order to gain a better contextual understanding of the process.
The key ethical issues related to school and community relations within the district were described as working to ensure that the benefits to all parties, students and those in the community alike, were clearly understood. The CPSCRM and principal explained that each interaction between the school and the community should be based in ethical decision making and based in evidence (Howard & White, 2017). The CPSCRM discussed volunteer opportunities, explaining how they must each be explored to ensure that the organization offering openings was not exploiting the volunteers for free labor and that students would receive practical experience and insights into civic-minded practices in exchange for their time. The principal discussed work study programs, expressing similar concern. It was explained that the level of community involvement present within the district was dependent upon each school and the available opportunities in the area. The principal stated that there was a desire to mold students that had a higher level of civic-mindedness as evidence had shown the benefits of this trait in students, increasing their capabilities and providing them with the skills necessary to boost student success (Norris, 2016)
When looking at the matter of parent and student orientation procedures both parties explained that parents are informed of student responsibilities through information sent home, emailed, and information available on the website, in addition to information provided in the student handbook. When asked what the basic obligations of schools were to communicate effectively with families about the school and the district instructional programs, both expressed that it was the responsibility of the school to keep the parents informed, and that it was the responsibility of the teachers and administrators to ensure that the information got to the parents, regardless of which administrator or teacher was providing the information. It was expressed that each school has their own procedures for information dissemination, in addition to an SMS system for communicating with parents along with an online portal (CPS, 2017).
The principal was able to provide more information than the CPSCMR was in regard to the involvement of parents within the school setting. It was explained that parents could participate through coordination with teachers, through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), or by contacting the administration directly. Through any of these methods, it would be possible for parents to assist in decision making, to engage in advocacy, or to participate. Parent surveys were also sent out frequently through the online portal, explained the principal.
The CSPCMR explained that teacher development was provided by the district, but that it was each principal who was tasked with ensuring that his or her teachers completed those development programs. The principal explained that each administrator had their own method of tracking which of their teachers had completed their required hours of professional development for the year and had a specific process that would allow them to ensure that all teachers participated, but that it varied based on style and preference of the principal.
Finally, when asked to discuss whether there were any bullying policies in place in the district, both parties were quick to explain that the district had a standard bullying policy, adopted in 2015 (CPS, 2015). Strategies discussed in the district included requiring students sign the policy, making them morally responsible for reducing bullying in the schools (CPS, 2015). Furthermore, all staff were required to intervene immediately should staff become aware of such a situation, and specific punitive measures were in place as a further deterrent (CPS, 2015).
Each individual, at each different level within the district, has a responsibility to ensure that all decisions affecting the students, the schools themselves, the district, and the community, are made through the application of ethical decision making. It is the responsibility of those in charge to ensure that all actions are taken in such a way as all parties involved are able to benefit, and there is no unfair advantage. It is for this reason that the use of community relations and the interaction between the school and the community must be above reproach. As the two interviewees indicated, the process is a balancing act, one that requires careful exploration before action can be taken.