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Government Report on Virginia Tech Tragedy Outlines Key Findings
By Surajit Sen Sharma
On June 13, a "Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy," was submitted jointly by Michael O. Leavitt, Alberto R. Gonzales, and Margaret Spellings. The report, a joint effort of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and Education, puts forth findings and recommendations for containing similar incidents in the future.
Stressing that "one-size-fits-all" solutions are unlikely to be helpful and that responses to situations need to be tailored to their contexts, the report found that five key matters need to be addressed if successful solutions to campus violence are to be found. These matters are as follows:
Critical information sharing faces substantial obstacles.
Accurate and complete information on individuals prohibited from possessing firearms is essential to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Improved awareness and communication are key to prevention.
It is critical to get people with mental illness the services they need.
Where we know what to do, we have to be better at doing it.
The report found that in each state, mental health professionals stated that violence does not have any generalized relation to mental illness.
Among the most relevant findings were obstacles to critical information sharing. The report found that concerns are heightened by confusion about legal restrictions on the ability to share information about people who may be threats to themselves or others. The report also found that in addition to relevant federal laws, there is a patchwork of state laws and regulations that affect information-sharing practices. The report discovered that a significant lack of understanding exists about the application of HIPAA and FERPA and the interrelations of these federal laws with state laws.
To address confusion regarding the application of federal laws that affect information sharing, the report recommended that the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education develop additional guidance clarifying how information can be shared legally under HIPAA and FERPA and disseminate it widely to the mental health, education, and law enforcement communities.
The report also stressed, among other issues, the need to ensure that parents and school officials understand how and when postsecondary institutions can share information about college students with parents. A recommendation was made for the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that its emergency-management grantees and state and local communities receiving training through the program have clear guidance on the sharing of information as it relates to educational records and FERPA.
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