I have spent much of the last week wondering if Jared Loughner’s parents and the officials at Pima Community College could have done more – or if anything at all — to prevent the tragic killings in Tucson. I have been waiting for more information to come out about Loughner’s parents and the university before we talked about it. Finally, I am finding several good stories that give some insight into how much each party knew, how things were dealt with, how colleges in general deal with troubled students and how parents may miss all the warning signs.
First I wanted to share with you a bunch of great links to stories and some of the more relevant passages and then we can discuss. If you have the time (I know everyone is playing catch up from the snow) read the full articles. They are worthwhile and may give more insight than my quick paragraph pulls.
First some basic news on the story:
“I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s not the parents’ fault,” Kelly told ABC. “You know, I’d like to think I’m a person that’s, you know, somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they’ve got to be hurting in this situation as much as anybody.”
“Sources told the Journal that Randy and Amy Loughner expressed a degree of shock in their discussion with the FBI, saying they were unaware of the degree of their son’s apparent mental problems.”
Now the big articles we really need to discuss:
This article from The Associated Press gets right to the issue at hand: How much should schools be telling parents about their kids if there is a problem? How much can they legally tell them (FERPA – remember that??) and when is it really a problem? I am pulling much of this story because it is really interesting.
…With limited resources, complicated laws, more students in need of mental health help and echoes of the Virginia Tech massacre all part of the mix, schools face the conundrum of trying to create a safe environment without overreacting.
“What you’re really doing is deciding, ‘Where do I want to make the mistakes? Do I want to be over-broad in protecting civil liberties or over-broad in protecting safety?’” said Steven McDonald, general counsel for the Rhode Island School of Design and an expert on student privacy laws and campus safety. “And you’re never going to get it exactly right.”
McDonald said the pendulum has swung toward safety in recent years, but could swing back if schools overreach.
Many colleges and universities have started or strengthened threat assessment teams of administrators, counseling directors, campus police chiefs and others who meet regularly to field concerns about disturbing behavior and to investigate them.
But the issues are not always clear-cut. What should be protected as free speech? When does behavior cross the line from odd to potentially dangerous? When is suspension or expulsion warranted, or forced mental health treatment?
“There is a lot more awareness of the need to take action, but we are still constrained by considerations of civil liberties and the like,” said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, an umbrella group for higher education.
“It’s not illegal to be a college student with mental health issues,” she said. “There are plenty of them out there. It’s very difficult to determine which ones merit being isolated from the college community.”
Studies show more students are arriving on campus with mental health issues. A recent American College Counseling Association survey found 44 percent of students who visit college counseling centers have severe psychological disorders, up from 16 percent a decade ago. One in four students is on psychiatric medication, compared to 17 percent in 2000.
Officials at Pima Community College, where Loughner was a student, released 51 pages of police documents depicting him at times as “creepy,” ”very hostile” and “having difficulty understanding what he had done wrong in the classroom.”
After five incidents that drew the attention of campus police — a rambling YouTube video that called the school a scam and associated it with genocide was the final straw — school officials told Loughner and his parents that to return to classes he would need to undergo a mental health exam to show he was not a danger. He never returned.
Some critics have said the school should have gone a step further and sought to force Loughner into counseling, which Arizona state law allows. But school officials have said their response was appropriate given the circumstances.
For years, many colleges said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, handcuffed their ability to share information about troubled students with those who could help — including parents.
But McDonald, the privacy law expert, said FERPA is much less constraining than is often portrayed. A health and safety exemption allows for, say, faculty to share records with the dean of students, threat assessment teams or campus police relatively easily, he said. In 2008, Congress amended the law in responses to the Virginia Tech tragedy, making it clear schools would not be punished if they have a rational basis for taking action.
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of their disability, including mental health problems. But exemptions covering harm to self and public safety exist there, too.
“The law in these areas can be kind of complicated, and many campuses don’t have legal counsel or heavy-duty mental health expertise,” McDonald said. “So we’re being asked to do something that is really pretty hard.”
This is some really good insight into what a parent with a child who may have a mental issue is dealing with. The author does a good job exploring how may think it’s drugs – but their child is self-medicating their condition. Or with the parents they may actually seem normal and OK. It is written by Pete Earley is the author of Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.
“But news reports said college officials warned the Loughners their son couldn’t return to school until he had had a mental health evaluation. He was scaring other students. Obviously, that’s a huge red flag — if it happened. Federal privacy laws limit how much information colleges can share with parents. Adult children are exactly that: adults. The first time my son and I visited a psychologist, my son turned his chair so that his back was facing the therapist and refused to speak. He didn’t think he was sick…”
“Remember, having a mental illness is not illegal. Nor can anyone, even a parent, force another person into treatment arbitrarily. All states require a person be dangerous to himself or others. What makes Arizona’s law more liberal is it also allows a person to be forced into treatment if he is “persistently or acutely disabled” or “gravely disabled.” Would Loughner have met those criteria? I doubt it, based on my experience and given that a police officer stopped him the morning of the shooting and let him go without noticing anything alarming about his behavior. Saying you are concerned about shrines with skulls in the backyard or strange writings is simply not enough in most courts.”
“A 2009 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that Arizona’s mental health services were grossly inadequate. The report was riddled with complaints such as, “When I first tried to get help after attempting suicide, I was told that I wasn’t sick enough to qualify,” and, “There is a six to eight week wait to see (a psychiatrist) as a new patient.” Most states are plagued by long waiting lines because legislators have closed state hospitals and stripped treatment funds to balance budgets.”
“Perhaps the most hurtful comment leveled at parents is that they should have done a better job raising their child. Would you attack a parent’s child-rearing skills if his son or daughter had cancer? Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses.”
“Blaming parents is easy, but before you throw that first stone, try walking in our shoes.”
I have been thinking about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of students’ education records, all last week, and I wondered if the college had been allowed to share anything to his parents about what went on at school. And according to that article in USA Today, it was allowed and according to the online FERPA definition it definitely was allowed. I bolded the pertinent parts! (I guess like the AP story says the universities are afraid of getting sued if they reveal too much or it wasn’t really a problem.)
Recently many questions have arisen concerning the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of students’ education records. The Department wishes to clarify what FERPA says about postsecondary institutions sharing information with parents.
What are parents’ and students’ rights under FERPA?
At the K-12 school level, FERPA provides parents with the right to inspect and review their children’s education records, the right to seek to amend information in the records they believe to be inaccurate, misleading, or an invasion of privacy, and the right to consent to the disclosure of personally identifiable information from their children’s education records. When a student turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, these rights under FERPA transfer from the student’s parents to the student. Under FERPA, a student to whom the rights have transferred is known as an “eligible student.” Although the law does say that the parents’ rights afforded by FERPA transfer to the “eligible student,” FERPA clearly provides ways in which an institution can share education records on the student with his or her parents.
While concerns have been expressed about the limitations on the release of information, there are exceptions to FERPA’s general rule that educational agencies and institutions subject to FERPA may not have a policy or practice of disclosing “education records” without the written consent of the parent (at the K-12 level) or the “eligible student.”
When may a school disclose information to parents of dependent students?
Under FERPA, schools may release any and all information to parents, without the consent of the eligible student, if the student is a dependent for tax purposes under the IRS rules.
Can a school disclose information to parents in a health or safety emergency?
The Department interprets FERPA to permit schools to disclose information from education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter.
Can parents be informed about students’ violation of alcohol and controlled substance rules?
Another provision in FERPA permits a college or university to let parents of students under the age of 21 know when the student has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.
Can a school disclose law enforcement unit records to parents and the public?
Additionally, under FERPA, schools may disclose information from “law enforcement unit records” to anyone – including parents or federal, State, or local law enforcement authorities – without the consent of the eligible student. Many colleges and universities have their own campus security units. Records created and maintained by these units for law enforcement purposes are exempt from the privacy restrictions of FERPA and can be shared with anyone.
Can school officials share their observations of students with parents?
Nothing in FERPA prohibits a school official from sharing with parents information that is based on that official’s personal knowledge or observation and that is not based on information contained in an education record. Therefore, FERPA would not prohibit a teacher or other school official from letting a parent know of their concern about their son or daughter that is based on their personal knowledge or observation.
So lots and lots to discuss here:
How much should schools be telling parents?
When should they step in?
Should the school have made him be evaluated not just put the onus on the parents?
Could the parents have done more? (I don’t think we know all the facts here yet.)
Do you agree with the USA Today article that parents could easily miss these signs or be tricked into thinking all is well?
How will these stories and these events affect your parenting now or later?