State law prevents college and university officials from telling parents when their children get into minor trouble with drugs and alcohol on campus. After several deaths in 2007, those officials want to change the law.
“When the families don’t know about it and we can’t tell them about it, they can’t be part of the solution,” said Minnesota State University, Mankato, President Richard Davenport.
There have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to loosen the Data Practices Act to allow for parental notification, but the push this year comes with an urgency brought on by the four alcohol-related deaths on Minnesota campuses of current of former students.
Under the current law, school officials cannot notify parents when their child is caught with beer in a dorm room, or cited for underage drinking or possession of marijuana. Such information is considered “educational data” and protected from disclosure.
Currently, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, or MnSCU, schools are allowed to contact parents only in cases where there is a health or safety emergency or if students have signed a waiver.
However, many college students, who are nearly all legally adults, prefer the law as it is. The Minnesota State University Student Association doesn’t have a formal position on the proposed change.
“There are two sides to the issue, and I think students understand the two sides,” said Kara Brockett, the group’s president and a student at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. “With the exception of (Post-Secondary Education Option) students, all students are 18 years old, they are away at college and they’re treated like an adult in every other situation. For them to then be told or reported to their parents … just seems counterintuitive and an invasion of privacy and a lack of respecting someone as an adult.”
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who was approached by university leaders at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, said he would introduce a new notification bill next month when the Legislature reconvenes.
The bill would allow parental notification if a student violates a law or school policy governing “the use or possession of alcohol or of a controlled substance.”
Similar bills failed to pass in 2006 and 2007. “Those that were opposed were concerned that college students are young adults, and Mom and Dad shouldn’t be brought into it,” Marquart said.
Marquart, who has a daughter in college, said he thought this year’s bill would fare better than last year’s.
“I think the more people you can bring in to help a young adult get through some tough times, the better … If it can help prevent a very unfortunate event in the future, it’s well worth it.”
The parental notification issue gained momentum after a deadly 2007 on Minnesota campuses.
· In April, University of Minnesota freshman Kyle Sharbonno, 19, fell from the third floor of a parking garage and died. Two university students were with providing alcoholic beverages to a minor that resulted in death.
· In October, a former Mankato student, Amanda Jax, drank herself to death on the night of her 21st birthday.
· In November, Rissa Amen-Reif, a Mankato student, was hit by a car and killed. Police say alcohol was a factor. Amen-Reif and another student has just left a sorority gathering.
· On Dec. 14, Winona State University sophomore Jenna Foellmi died of acute alcohol poisoning.
Minnesota State University, Moorhead, President Roland Barden said he hoped the deaths would spur change.
“It is time to make some changes and try to do things differently,” he said. “Clearly we are asking for a strengthening of tools.”
Traci Toomey, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, cautioned that parental notification alone would not end the problem of risky drinking.
“Parents can influence college-aged students, but they have less influence on college-aged students than they do on high school students,” Toomey said.
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