Privacy Laws Tie Colleges' Hands

Mentally ill students shielded by federal regs; parents, others can't be notified
By Marie Morris,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2007 1:43 PM CDT
Privacy Laws Tie Colleges' Hands
Candles, flowers and mementos grace a makeshift memorial at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, April 19, 2007. Thirty-two students and faculty members were killed by a gunman at the school on Monday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)    (Associated Press)

Despite numerous red flags, Cho Seung-Hui was able to live in a Virginia Tech dorm and plot a campus massacre in part because the law limits colleges' ability to seek help for adult students who do not request it. Stalking complaints and a report that Cho was suicidal did not outweigh federal privacy statutes and medical ethics.

Colleges who deem students a threat to themselves or others may compel them to undergo psychiatric evaluation, but can't share the results, even with parents, unless the student gives permission, or there is an imminent threat of violence. Cho underwent a court-ordered medical evaluation; the examining doctor concluded that he was mentally ill but not a threat. (Read more Seung-Hui Cho stories.)

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