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Posted at 6:24 PM ET, 02/ 2/2010

Alcohol, drug use: Colleges should tell parents

By Valerie Strauss

Virginia Tech is being criticized for deciding that it is time to notify parents every time their child is disciplined for violations of alcohol and drug laws.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m wondering why any school would keep that information from parents.

Under the old Virginia Tech rule, parents learned about major infractions but didn't always hear about minor ones. So if a kid was busted for having a beer in his dorm room, his parents wouldn’t necessarily find out. Now they will.

The university said that the policy change was prompted by requests from parents, who were often surprised to learn that minor violations had occurred before major ones--and that the accumulation of such violations was leading to expulsion.

Some are already saying that Virginia Tech is “taking the fun” out of college, that college is a time for experimentation and that the school should leave well enough alone.

Drinking under the age of 21 is against the law. There are a lot of arguments made that 21 is too high--and even some college presidents have publicly called for lowering the legal drinking age. But that's what the law is now. We all pick the laws we choose to break (speed limits being one of them), knowing that there are consequences if we get caught.

If a parent isn’t terribly concerned about their child having a drink or two or three and tells his/her kid to find better ways to hide the beer, so be it. That’s what a friend told me he’d do if his kid’s college called with a report of some minor drinking infraction.

But it shouldn’t be up to a school to decide which violations of law are severe enough for notifying a parent and which are not.

Under a federal law known as FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)/a>, schools aren’t allowed to tell parents many things about their kids who are 18 years old and over.

For example, parents cannot obtain information about their child’s grades, and colleges will not reveal most disciplinary actions or health issues. There is a provision in FERPA that allows schools to tell parents about drug and alcohol violations--but the law does not require it.

I’d vote for schools to tell parents, for the parents make their own judgments, and for kids to be smarter about when, where and whether they drink.

Go ahead and tell me why I'm wrong.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 2, 2010; 6:24 PM ET
Categories:  College Life, Health  | Tags:  college life, drinking, virginia tech  
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Yeah, this makes sense for 18 year olds, but what about 21 year olds? Grad Students?

How much of an adult do you need to be before your parents get notified of any and all crimes you commit?

My opinion: whoever is paying the bill gets all the information, including grades.

Posted by: someguy100 | February 2, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

No need to tell you that you are wrong. You are absolutely right, and it's a national problem. You wouldn't believe the paperwork and hoops we have had to go through with our children at college for basic information such as business accounts, food accounts, grades. I agree with someguy100--whoever is paying the bills should have access. FERPA is way out of control--and not just at colleges and universities either, but in public schools as well.

Posted by: mybellringers | February 3, 2010 6:22 AM | Report abuse

I don't quite agree with someguy100 about who pays the bills gets to see everything. What about people like me whose employer paid a lot of the bills? I'm sorry, but my employer does not have the right to have reports on my behavior at school. My employer has every right to make stipulations on the benefits of paying for my education (e.g., relevent program, pro-rated reimbursement based on grades, # years required to work after graduation, etc.). But getting notified because I have a parking ticket, or got caught on campus drinking, that's not their business unless it effects my job performance or some other job aspect like a clearance.

I think it should be that if a student is still a dependent, then the person(s) who claim that student as a dependent get to see everything because they most likely will be paying for the consequences. And it's not just education. I know of situations where the parent wasn't allowed to see the medical records for his child because they were over 18 and yet the parent was paying the doctor and insurance bills.

Posted by: AnotherMom | February 3, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

What about when a parent loans a 20-year-old offspring money for a down payment on a house? Should the police notify the parent if they are called there for some kind of disturbance? Should the bank be notified? Does the army notify parents when their soldier-offspring gets drunk on leave? Why are college students considered less mature and subject to parental control? (Besides the fact that the colleges feature the social life and high-jinks in recruiting students.)

If person is an adult they should be treated as such. If parents want to be sure their college students are not wasting their money, they should 1) expect their offspring to behave like adults once they are legally adults, 2)draw up an agreement that the students will tell them everything they do wrong (yeah, right!)or 3) have an agreement with the students that if they get into legal trouble or have to leave college because of low grades or misbehavior the tuition money needs to be repaid. (I believe this last is the arrangement under which the federal government runs the military academies; if the student doesn't graduate and serve a certain amount of time, he or she has to repay the government the cost of the education.)

A lot of college officials have deplored the "helicopter parents" who check in online to make sure students have done their homework and gotten the term papers in on time--but if the colleges really believe the students should be left alone to take the consequences of their actions, they would apply the idea to ALL actions.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 3, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

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