- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Laws, schools and privacy

Perhaps the most significant lesson for state and federal legislators to be gleaned from the Virginia Tech tragedy is the need for a reappraisal of privacy laws affecting schools. These laws requiring schools to keep confidential virtually anything about a student from virtually everyone except the student or those specifically authorized by the student have diluted the common-law rule of in loco parentis, which held that the school acts in the place of the parent while the student is at school and is, essentially, a partner with the parent for the best interests of a student (“Gun control for psychotics?” Commentary, Saturday).

What happened in Blacksburg was an unintended consequence of laws designed to protect the privacy of students in parental divorce situations, birth-control and abortion decisions, academic grade problems and other intrafamily disputes. Society’s attitude, mostly shaped by the courts beginning in the 1960s, is that children should be treated as adults. This also conditioned the push for privacy laws touching the school. The laws generally were supported by school people who saw them as protection against civil litigation and relieved them of the sometimes difficult and often fractious task of contacting parents or guardians of problematic students.

These privacy laws cry out for a clear exemption in cases in which mental illness is diagnosed or reasonably suspected that could impel the student to do violence to himself or others. In those circumstances, the school should have the duty to disclose the illness to the student’s parents or guardian without fear of retaliatory litigation. That would provide the student’s family with the advance notice that reasonable parents would want and need to take some sort of immediate remedial action.

At the university level where the student may be 21 years or older, the exemption still should apply as a matter of implied contract between the adult student and the university. This is necessary because of the unique nature of the university as a place of intense mental pressures on students who face up to their own intellectual shortcomings or emotional immaturity, often with disastrous impact on their psyches.

What is needed is an enterprising reporter thirsting for a Pulitzer Prize to review the practical impact of state and federal privacy laws affecting schools to inspire and motivate a federal or state legislator to seek a thorough legislative review of the privacy laws and amend them. That would be a real step forward to prevent a reprise of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

THOMAS A. SHANNON

Executive director emeritus

National School Boards Association

Alexandria, Va.

Diplomacy needed on ABM defense

The column “Fighting to secure defenses in Europe” (Commentary, Tuesday) by James Hackett referred to the energetic diplomacy being undertaken in support of establishing bases for anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe. The real reason for the energy being expended is the lack of adequate discussion before the policy was announced.

Unfortunately, American officials have a long tradition of telling allies what they intend to offer to enhance security rather than holding preliminary discussions to hear and absorb allied views on the topic. This is not meant to dismiss the generosity or the leadership offered by the United States in terms of allied security, but merely to suggest that more genuine exchanges before a policy is announced would be beneficial and prevent the need for the type of hectic diplomatic activity described by Mr. Hackett.

While on the topic of ABM defense, we would like to point out that the criticism of insufficient testing is not just the fallback opposition of opponents. We have both been involved actively in missile-defense research and development since its inception and remain strong supporters. Nonetheless, we agree with those critics who complain that too much reliance has been placed on simulation and that insufficient validation tests have been conducted in realistic conditions. Mr. Hackett is correct in suggesting that the key hit-to-kill technology has been demonstrated, but the overall capability of the ABM system remains speculative.

STANLEY ORMAN

Rockville, Md.

MAJ. GEN. EUGENE FOX

U.S. Army (retired)

McLean, Va.

Better weapons, better military

William R. Hawkins misrepresented the mission of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and the work we have accomplished since being founded more than 25 years ago (“Back to that ‘70s show?” Commentary, Monday). POGO, founded by Dina Rasor, exists to expose waste, fraud and abuse in government conduct and to implement solutions to systemic problems that hamper good government.

Our mission includes helping to ensure that our troops have the opportunity to use the best and safest equipment able to be produced. The investigations that Ms. Rasor and subsequent staff have conducted using a sound methodology repeatedly exposed dangerous flaws in weapons systems.

For example, our revelations of falsified testing on the M-1 forced the Army to improve its standards for the tank’s engine, transmission and its tracks. The result is a tank that has effectively carried troops into several war zones. POGO’s investigation into the Bradley Fighting Vehicle exposed the weapon’s originally poor design and recommended the Army install Kevlar lining and move the ammunition to the outside of the vehicle, which improved protection of the troops.

Troop safety, overall security and efficiency are always considered when we investigate defense programs or weapons systems. By these standards, the F-22A fighter so lovingly referenced fails on at least two counts. POGO has questioned the F-22 procurement because the need for it is debatable given today’s security environment. Also, the fighter’s extremely high cost has limited the number of planes that can be bought, leading to unilateral disarmament. Although each individual F-22 may have capabilities superior to current fighters, having too few F-22s will hamstring our military’s ability to dominate the skies.

POGO stands by all of its investigations and we are especially proud to have prevented defective weapons from increasing the risk to men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

DANIELLE BRIAN

Executive director

Project on Government Oversight

Washington

The one and only

Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, has demonstrated again that he is the only presidential candidate of either party to actively support the Constitution, which is grounded in ideas put forth in the Declaration of Independence. Bruce Fein pointed out that Mr. Paul is the only candidate who has signed the American Freedom Pledge (“Would they have signed the Declaration?” Commentary, Tuesday). Mr. Paul has been famous for voting no on most bills because he believes them to be unconstitutional. He is the only Republican candidate who did not vote for the war in Iraq and doesn’t support it.

The recent generic polls have shown that the Democrats lead 52 percent to 40 percent. Also, the top three Democratic presidential contenders have raised far more campaign funds than the top three Republican candidates (Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain). In addition, polls show that the electorate believes the country is heading in the wrong direction. With the top three Republican contenders, you get more of the same. Mr. McCain attacked the Constitution with the McCain-Feingold Act. Mr. Romney has continually changed his position on key issues. Mr. Giuliani has not been a guardian of the Second Amendment.

It is about time that the Republicans pick a strong defender of the Constitution and nominate Ron Paul to fight the socialistic and Big Brother tendencies of the top three Democratic candidates, (Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards).

ALAN KLEIST

Cheverly

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