U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today asked the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to formally request that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings conduct a review over the next 120 days of federal laws, regulations and relevant state laws regarding limitations on universities’ abilities to respond to troubling student behavior.
“In light of the tragedy this week at Virginia Tech, we in the federal government ought to be reviewing our responsibilities too,” said Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee and former U.S. Secretary of Education. “Our focus should be whether federal laws or regulations unwisely restrict or limit how universities are able to deal with students who have mental health problems, or who otherwise exhibit behavior about which parents, authorities or other third parties should know. Generally -- and many Americans don’t know this -- under federal law universities cannot tell parents about their children’s problems or their grades without the student’s consent.”
Alexander’s letter to Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Republican Mike Enzi (R-WY) notes that “at least one professor at Virginia Tech who was tutoring the shooter has been quoted as saying she felt that federal laws prevented her from going to his parents or to others about her concerns… I would hope that Secretary Spellings could review not only the laws and rules but also the implementation of these rules on campus.”
“After that,” the letter says, “our committee might hold a hearing or roundtable to determine whether there is action we need to take.”
Alexander sits on the HELP Committee.