Right to privacy vs. duty to inform is a sticky, complicated issue. By law, I must maintain my patients' confidentiality unless they sign a release form indicating I can share information. But what about underage drinking on college campuses? Does the college have a duty to inform parents when a student violates alcohol or drug use policies? Until recently, most universities cited privacy laws - they did not inform parents.
An article in the Wall Street Journal, Colleges Move Boldly on Student Drinking examines a "loop hole" in federal privacy law that is allowing colleges to inform parents when a student violates a campus drinking or drug use policy. The law, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa), was enacted to protect the privacy of student education records. Under the law, students and/or parents must give written permission before their information can be released. The law was enacted in 1974, but according to the WSJ article,
"The college parental-notification policies for alcohol and drug violations utilize an exception added in 1998 to Ferpa that allows schools to call parents if a student gets an alcohol or drug violation and is under 21 years of age. After the law was changed, some colleges created parental-notification policies, while others insisted that contacting parents would go against their goal of nurturing independence in their students."
College drinking and drug-related incidents are staggering. According to the National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA),
- 1700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
- More than 696,000 students between 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- More than 97,000 students between 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults or date rape.
As a substance abuse counselor and mental health therapist, I can certainly see both sides of this issue. But I do know that involving family when a student has an alcohol or drug problem can have a very positive effect.
What do you think? Violation of privacy or safety issue that overrides it?