The Dilemma between maintaining Student Confidentiality and Ensuring Safety
Faculty and staff are frequently in the best position to notice and report student distress.
You are the front lines, the forward guard.
The events of Virginia Tech should impress upon us all the necessity of being on the watch.
When a student presents as a potential risk to self or others, there is an obligation to report that over-rides their right to confidentiality. All campus personnel are bound by FERPA, but FERPA does not restrict information that may affect safety of our campus. We are obligated to share on a "need to know" basis.
The goal of reporting a concern is to enable the college to intervene early and provide support and behavioral response to students displaying varying levels of disruptive, disturbed, distressed and/or disregulated behavior. The BIT team strives to ensure safety while respecting the rights and dignity of the student referred.
The liability of not responding far exceeds that of compromising campus safety. Students who have attempted to sue campuses where information was shared as safety concern, have had limited success. Campus and student safety are the responsibility of all campus staff. Faculty are one of our primary resources in accomplishing this. Faculty are often the first to note that a student is in some kind of emotional trouble. Referrals from faculty literally have saved lives.
Some question may come up regarding students with disabilities. If the impact of a disability creates a direct and imminent threat to safety, then disclosure may be necessary. For example, in the instance when a student with an active seizure disorder enrolls in a chemistry lab or a horseback-riding course, the need to establish safety precautions overrides confidentiality. If a perceived mental health problem exists, maintaining the safety of the individual and the campus is the highest priority.