Home Schools Everyday Ethics: State Licensing and Practicing Speech-Language Pathology in Schools

Everyday Ethics: State Licensing and Practicing Speech-Language Pathology in Schools

by Donna Euben
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I am a school-based SLP and I’ve practiced for more than 20 years in my district. Yesterday I received an email from the central office telling me that my SLP license expired 12 years ago. No one—not my supervisor, not the principal, not the central office—ever told me my SLP license had expired. I never once received a renewal notice about it, either! What should I do?

Unfortunately, ASHA’s ethics department hears about school-based speech-language pathologists letting state licenses expire—often inadvertently—quite frequently, as the maze of credentialing requirements becomes more and more challenging to navigate. Almost every state now requires SLPs to be licensed to practice.

While some states require school-based SLPs to obtain and maintain their state occupational license, other states exempt them. Where no state occupational license is required, school-based SLPs must obtain a teaching certificate or educational license from the state department of education. At least six states require school-based SLPs to hold an occupational license plus some type of teacher certificate. One more wrinkle: Twenty-one states allow/require current ASHA certification for SLPs to practice in schools (State Teacher Requirements Licensing Trends-SLP (2018)).

Your first step should be to look up your state licensure requirements to see whether they apply to you as a school-based SLP. You may also want to confer with your state speech-language hearing association about their understanding of whether state licensing rules apply to school-based SLPs. Bottom line, the responsibility lies with you to make sure you are appropriately licensed and credentialed.

Next, you should think through some of the potential ethical considerations triggered by practicing without a license:

Ethical and legal obligations require maintenance of a current occupational license.

State licensing requirements for school-based SLPs change frequently—and too often without adequate notice to practitioners like you. Making sure your professional license stays current is too important to your career to risk receiving renewal information second-hand from your supervisor or a colleague.

The legal obligation to abide by state occupational requirements rests with you, so periodically check your state licensing status and look for any changes in state licensing requirements. ASHA’s Code of Ethics Principle IV, Rule R states you must comply with state laws and regulations “applicable to professional practice.” Therefore, if state law has been violated by practicing unlicensed, there may also be a violation of the Code.

Practicing without a state SLP license might constitute misrepresentation under the Code.

While unlicensed, you might have inadvertently misrepresented yourself as state-licensed if you:

  • Posted your bio as a speaker for an online professional program.
  • Signed school documents.
  • Identified yourself in IEP team meetings.
  • Introduced yourself to students’ families.
  • Submitted billing and sought reimbursement for services.

While you clearly did so unknowingly, the ethical concern about misrepresenting your credentials remains (Principle III, Rule A).

Some state licensing boards prohibit unlicensed SLPs from even calling themselves SLPs.

Yes, you read that correctly: Some states ban you from calling yourself an SLP unless you are licensed as an SLP in that state. So even if you determine you never referred to yourself as a state-licensed SLP while unlicensed, merely referring to yourself as a SLP can violate state licensing law. This also violates the Code, which requires those in the professions to “comply with local, state, and federal laws” regulating professional practice (Principle IV, Rule R).

For example, Kentucky provides, “No person shall practice or represent himself as a speech-language pathologist . . . in this state unless he is licensed in accordance with the provisions of this law.” Courts have upheld this authority of state licensing boards in cases involving professional-client (commercial) speech with unlicensed real estate brokers, certified public accountants, and fortune tellers.

Practicing without an occupational SLP license might raise concerns about fraud.

If your school district participates in insurance billing and reimbursement, you might have engaged in fraud—albeit unintentionally—if you signed and submitted bills seeking reimbursement as an unlicensed SLP. Principle III, Rule D states you “shall not defraud through intent, ignorance, or negligence.” Check your third-party payers’ requirements in terms of what credentials are needed to better understand whether there might be an ethical—or possibly legal—fraud violation.

After this immediate crisis passes—and it will—ask your co-workers and mentor(s) about safeguards they use to remind themselves of critical dates, like state licensure renewals. Then determine how you can avoid such situations in the future.

Donna R. Euben, Esq., is ASHA director of ethics. deuben@asha.org.

Legal disclaimer: The information provided in this posting is for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice, and your use of the legal information provided is not a substitute for legal advice. ASHA has no knowledge of the specific or unique circumstances under which such information may be used by you. Your use of this posting specifically or ASHA’s website generally does not create an attorney–client relationship between you and ASHA, or between you and any of ASHA’s employees or representatives.


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1 comment

Doris Wray December 18, 2019 - 4:26 pm

This is why it is so very important to maintain connections with your local education association and to be very cognizant of the contract that your school system maintains with its constituents. Be aware with when bargaining negotiations are being developed and try your very best to be knowledgeable of the parameters of your job . Being forewarned is being proactive about your employment.


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