MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--UPDATED
This bracing and tragic NYT story about a student at Hamilton College should be read by all college teachers. The awful situation in which those local know that a student is in distress but the parents do not results from student privacy laws that, quite mistakenly, treat teenagers (and those barely out of their teens) as adults (even, ironically, when parents are footing the bill for everything). The privacy laws need to be changed so that parents or guardians can be kept apprised of health issues their children face. Even more importantly, faculty need to be alert for students having problems and be proactive in referring them to support services available at the institution. The tremendous improvements in treatments for what otherwise would have been disabling mental health conditions a generation ago means that more of our students today are in high risk categories.
UPDATE: A faculty member at another university tells me they have been advised by legal counsel that "If we feel that you are in imminent danger to your self or others we are empowered to break confidentiality." In addition, he points me to the FERPA rules which contain this exception:
Health or Safety Emergency
In some situations, a school may determine that it is necessary to disclose non-directory information to appropriate parties in order to address a disaster or other health or safety emergency. FERPA permits school officials to disclose, without consent, education records, or personally identifiable information from education records, to appropriate parties (see Q&A 9) in connection with an emergency, if knowledge of that information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals. See 34 CFR §§ 99.31(a)(10) and 99.36. This exception to FERPA’s general consent requirement is temporally limited to the period of the emergency and generally does not allow for a blanket release of personally identifiable information from the student’s education records.
Under this health or safety emergency provision, an educational agency or institution is responsible for making a determination whether to make a disclosure of personally identifiable information on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the totality of the circumstances pertaining to a threat to the health or safety of the student or others. If the school district or school determines that there is an articulable and significant threat to the health or safety of the student or other individuals and that a party needs personally identifiable information from education records to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals, it may disclose that information to such appropriate party without consent. 34 CFR § 99.36. This is a flexible standard under which the Department defers to school administrators so that they may bring appropriate resources to bear on the situation, provided that there is a rational basis for the educational agency’s or institution’s decisions about the nature of the emergency and the appropriate parties to whom information should be disclosed. We note also that, within a reasonable period of time after a disclosure is made under this exception, an educational agency or institution must record in the student’s education records the articulable and significant threat that formed the basis for the disclosure and the parties to whom information was disclosed. 34 CFR § 99.32(a)(5).
I'm opening comments for those with more experience and/or information about the emergency exception and also about practices at other institutions.