GW could notify parents about alcohol violations under new bill

The University will have the option to notify the parents of students who violate alcohol and drug laws and policies under legislation passed by Congress last week.

The provision is an amendment to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act that was passed by the U.S. Senate Sept. 29 and the House Sept. 28. The amendment, proposed by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), would allow colleges to inform parents when students violate federal, state and local alcohol and drug laws, or university policies. President Clinton is expected to sign the bill into law.

Proponents of the bill said they hope it will reduce the amount of drug use and binge drinking that has plagued college campuses recently, including the five alcohol-related deaths on Virginia campuses last year.

But opponents of the legislation said they are concerned the amendment would infringe on students’ right to privacy.

The Buckley Amendment prohibits colleges from releasing private information about students, such as their grades. Most schools, including GW, interpret the Buckley Amendment to mean they cannot disclose information on drug and alcohol violations to parents, said Karen Warren, coordinator of student judicial services at GW.

“The fact is there is too much uncertainty for schools and parents the way the current law is written, and we are now very close to changing that,” Warner said in a press release.

Once the bill is signed into law, Warren said GW will consider instituting a consistent policy of informing parents or may decide on a case-by-case basis whether parents should be notified.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley (R) led a task force on drinking on college campuses that recommended in June that colleges be given the right to notify parents about alcohol and drug violations. Earley worked with Warner to write the amendment, according to Warner’s office.

Warner said he hoped the bill would deter students from drinking and increase awareness of responsible alcohol use.

“The effort to combat drug abuse and lower the rate of underage drinking must be made on all fronts,” Warner said. “It is important to empower parents and to reinforce their responsible role in helping their children understand the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.”

“It’s a ridiculous amendment,” said David Banisar, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in The Washington Post. “Even drug and alcohol violations shouldn’t override an adult’s right to privacy. This amendment would basically be turning the university into a baby-sitter for them.”

Warren said the large number of alcohol-related incidents on campus this semester is one of the reasons GW is considering parent notification as an option.

“We would like to take whatever action will impact student behavior,” she said.

Student Association President Carrie Potter said she has to learn more specifics about the bill, but the University needs to emphasize responsible drinking instead of punishing students by informing their parents.

“It needs to be more about students learning to drink responsibly than the University holding something like this over their heads,” she said. “It should be saved for students in serious danger and not used for every alcohol violation.”

Warren said she has mixed feelings about instituting the policy, but said it could open constructive dialogue between parents and students.

“I’ve talked to parents who are worried about not finding out about something until it’s too late,” Warren said. “I’m a supporter of student rights, but I could argue that students who do these things aren’t acting like adults.”

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