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Student Drug and Alcohol Violations at Institutions of Higher Education: Parental Notification and Access to Student Records
Authorization: 2007 Senate Resolution 243

Substance abuse continues to be one of the most challenging issues facing our nation and this Commonwealth. The abuse of drugs and alcohol impacts not only society as a whole, but also, communities, schools and families. Statistics demonstrate that the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are serious, including for family members and friends of substance abusers.

Drug and alcohol abuse is a particularly serious problem on college and university campuses, and it is garnering more attention from concerned administrators, policymakers and parents. So-called “binge” drinking has become the extracurricular activity of choice for many college students, especially underage students. As will be examined in a later chapter, the data are alarming in terms of the deaths, injuries, sexual assaults and rapes occurring as a direct result of drug and alcohol abuse.

Parents are frequently shocked when they learn that their son or daughter has been involved in a serious incident involving drugs and alcohol, and they frequently do not learn about it directly from the post-secondary institution where it occurred.

As incidents arising from drug and alcohol abuse both increase and intensify on campus, parents are growing increasingly concerned about why such incidents occur and whether future incidents could be prevented if they were informed about such incidents involving their student as well as given access to information necessary to protect the health and safety of their student and others.

Lawsuits by parents against post-secondary institutions have aided in bringing attention to the importance of recognizing parents as partners with colleges and universities in providing for a safe and healthy campus environment. Many institutions have determined that it is in their best interest to keep parents "in the loop" when there are incidents involving their children, especially with regard to drugs and alcohol.

Also helping to raise the consciousness of colleges and universities to the involvement of parents is the additional flexibility afforded the institutions by Federal law governing educational rights and privacy. Parental notification is one of the avenues the institutions are able to take to ensure parents are aware of what is transpiring in the life of their student.

As this report will show, a number of colleges and universities across the country and in Pennsylvania have determined that notifying parents in these circumstances is an appropriate policy to help combat the growing problem of drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses.

A 1998 amendment to the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) authorized educational institutions to notify parents, without the consent of the student, when that student has committed a violation of the institution's drug and alcohol policy.

Initial research, albeit preliminary, shows that parental notification policies, as permitted under the FERPA amendment, have produced a reduction in repeat violations of institutional drug and alcohol policies.

However, parents have found it more challenging to gain access to information about their student. This information, if revealed in a timely manner, may reveal potential problems the student is having which could later result in troubles with drugs and alcohol. As a later chapter will explain, parental access to the educational records of their children, under the provisions of FERPA, is significantly restricted and many institutions have established policies protecting the privacy rights of students regardless of circumstances whereby parents could be of assistance.

Substance abuse in the workplace continues to plague society costing employers large amounts of money in lost productivity and resulting in other negative consequences. College and university campuses are no exception and faculty members are not exempt from the problems associated with the abuse of these substances. Government at both the Federal and state levels has acted to address this problem through comprehensive legislation.

Senate Resolution 243, Printer's Number 2299 directed the Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) to undertake a study examining the issues briefly described in the preceding paragraphs.

First, the Commission was asked to examine the extent to which states, through statute or regulation, require institutions of higher education to either notify parents when their student violates the institution's drug and alcohol policy or provide parents with personal information from the student's educational record, without the student's consent, when the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals.

Second, the resolution directed that the Commission use a representative sample of institutions nationally and within the Commonwealth to determine whether institutions have enacted policies for providing parental notification of a drug or alcohol policy violation and whether and to what extent institutions have policies for the disclosure to parents of personal information from a student's educational records without the student's consent if deemed necessary to protect the health and safety of the student or other individuals.

Third, the Commission was directed to summarize the rationales of institutions for either having or not having policies relating to parental notification or parental access to personal information from a student's educational record.

Fourth, the resolution requested that the Commission examine the laws of each state as well as college and university policies regarding drug and alcohol abuse among faculty members.

This report contains the Commission's findings in each of these areas.