EXCLUSIVE: Glendale Unified Parents and Licensed Social Worker Sound the Alarm on Peer Counseling Course Proposal

Parents from Glendale Unified School District in Southern California have expressed concern over a course that they say directs students to act as counselors for their peers in dealing with issues including sex abuse, drug addiction, and suicide.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Glendale resident and parent Dorit Waldman, who is a Licensed Clinical Social worker with ten years of experience, sounded the alarm on the proposal. While a Peer Counseling I course is offered at Crescenta Valley High School, the new proposal outlines a second-level course, Peer Counseling II.

During the public comment period, Waldman said:

The syllabus states that 11th and 12th-grade students in the class will be designated as peer counselors, and will provide counseling to other students in the WellNEST Center in Crescenta Valley High School. The syllabus states that these peer counselors will be conducting individual counseling sessions and group counseling sessions. It states, quote, ‘Students will actually work in the WellNEST and then meet two to three times a week to discuss cases among their peers and the teacher, who takes a supervisory role.’
Teenagers don’t need to adhere to HIPAA, they aren’t licensed professionals, they are not employees. Also, are unaware that teenagers have a habit of gossiping? And this is not a flippant question that I am asking. Personal information that becomes the subject of school gossip can quickly become fodder for bullying which can cause disastrous consequences in a high school setting. The liability of this program and much more importantly the danger to students is astronomical.

In a little more than a decade, Crescenta Valley High School, the school “piloting” the peer counseling program, has experienced two tragic incidents of student suicide. One of those heartbreaking deaths occurred publicly in front of peers when a student jumped from a three-story roof during lunchtime. The student’s parents, in turn, filed a $2 million lawsuit against the district, arguing GUSD had been negligent in protecting the child by intervening in bullying and harassment that their 15-year-old child was facing at school. The parents’ lawsuit was dismissed, and the district offered sentiments saying that it “sympathized with the family.”

A similar peer counseling program is offered in neighboring La Cañada Unified School District, in which a source familiar with the course tells RedState that students are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. They also revealed that parents in that district are not happy about the program, either, saying it has “major red flags” and raising questions of who is liable if a teenager breaches the contract. Parents with larger incomes are concerned that they are especially at risk of becoming targets of such lawsuits. 

Waldman noted that the proposed course overview casts blame on parents for “starved and emotionally wounded” students who have turned their children’s adolescence into a “stress-strewn, hyper-pressurized time period” which has “damaged” “our students, our campus, our community, and our culture.” These parents, in their purported “quest for perfection,” were said to be driving anxiety, depression, hospitalizations due to suicidality, and instances of self-harm.

To quell the social worker and parents’ well-qualified concerns about the course, Superintendent Vivian Ekchian asks a question to the presenter, GUSD College and Career Readiness Coordinator Cristin Molano, and interjects in her response:

Ekchian: It is a course they are taking, it is not a program where kids are providing counseling, it is a course to learn about counseling. Can you expand on that and clarify a little bit?
Molano: That is correct…
Ekchian: Because you may have been here earlier, I’m not sure, but there were comments around that.
Molano: Correct, I know there were concerns expressed during public comment. It is a pathway. It is a two-course CTE (Career Technical Education) pathway and it is a class. It is um, not a, uh, practicum… [interrupted]
Ekchiant: It is a learning opportunity rather than, uh, counseling offered to students who may be in need of counseling.
Molano: That is absolutely correct.

Except, that is not what the syllabus or course design would indicate… at all.

The syllabus says:

This semester will function as a practicum modeled much like a student teaching model,

To the dictionary! Merriam-Webster defines practicum as:

a course of study designed especially for the preparation of teachers and clinicians that involves the supervised practical application of previously studied theory

The counseling course syllabus also states:

This activity will require students to orally present real cases where they peer counseled a student or group of students in the WellNest

So, the class is a literal practicum, and everything Molano and Ekchian said to quell concerns for the well-being of students was disingenuous or at least inaccurate.

The subject matter proposed in the syllabus outlines scenarios peer counselors may run into, including a scenario where a girl is working in the adult industry, a student is being beaten by a parent, and where a peer is planning suicide by overdose. Many of the scenarios would require school officials or licensed counselors to do mandated reporting, raising issues with the fact that teenagers are not mandated reporters nor equipped to guide anyone through such crises. Another class unit outlined in the syllabus requires students to divulge personal family histories. 

Waldman highlights these concerns based on her professional experience, telling RedState:

I was concerned to see that the proposed course of study outline included a 20-week practicum that stated that students would actually work in the WellNEST Center. The various examples provided in that practicum unit were alarming. There are reasons why licensed counselors go through years of training, thousands of hours of supervised internships and work placements, and rigorous testing exams, and it’s largely because in this line of work, things can go wrong quickly.

On Tuesday, during the final school board meeting of the academic year, Superintendent Vivian Ekchian announced her retirement, effective June 30. During the discussion, school board member Shant Sahakian concurred that he also had some issues with the proposed class and specific description. The board will continue to review the Counseling II course proposal.

The heavily Armenian-American Glendale parental groups have garnered a lot of attention in recent weeks as an epicenter of parents opposing gender theory, LGBTQ+ curriculum, and school Pride events. Some demonstrations have resulted in counter-protestors causing street brawls with the parents. While prior protests resulted in arrests, including a member of Antifa, police reported no arrests during the recent school board meeting. 

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