Murphy Legislation Adopted: Opens Lines of Communication Between Schools and Parents

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives today passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, H.R. 4137, which contained language authored by Rep. Tim Murphy (PA-18) breaking down legal barriers preventing schools from communicating with parents when a student is in need of help.

“Far too often schools are too worried about litigation rather than the overall well-being of the students on campus,” said Rep. Murphy, the only child psychologist in Congress and co-chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus. “Today’s legislation will remove this fear and allow schools to communicate with parents on the best needs of their child. Parents may be in the best position to help a student suffering from significant mental illness by providing emotional support, medical history, coordinating care with various mental health and medical professionals, and long-term follow-up. They will be there for the child long after the school is gone.”

In April 2007, Rep. Murphy introduced the Mental Health Security for America’s Families in Education Act (MH-SAFE), H.R. 2220 to allow parents to be better involved with their college-age children and to be able to seek treatment for mental illnesses. It allows schools and universities to share a student’s mental health information with their parents or guardians if the student is found to be at risk of suicide, or of committing homicide or physical assault. Rep. Murphy then worked with the Education and Labor Committee to include language from H.R. 2220 in the College Opportunity and Affordability Act.

“Each day an average of three college students commit suicide,” Rep. Murphy said. “In college, 11 percent of men and nine percent of women consider suicide. While they may not all act on their thoughts, we want to remove the barrier that prevents schools from contacting parents to get them the help they need, not only for the safety of their child but also of others on campus. Far too often we wait until after tragedy strikes to see what could have been done to prevent it. Today, we are taking a proactive approach to stopping future tragedies.”

The Act requires the Secretary of Education to clarify the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 within 90 days of becoming law. FERPA was originally intended to protect the confidentiality of student records and define what instances parents can have access to student information and grades. However, the definition is vague and led to various interpretations at schools, which are often too afraid to notify parents even if a student needs help. H.R. 4137 also protects schools from liability when acting in good faith.

“It is very important that colleges are able to share information with parents,” said Suzanne Grimes of Pennsylvania, whose son was injured during the Virginia Tech tragedy. “If there is ever a serious situation, parents need to know. We really appreciate Congressman Murphy’s hard work in getting this done.”

“It is important, compassionate, and essential that laws should be aimed toward facilitating not inhibiting the parent-child communication that helps students receive appropriate treatment for mental illness when necessary,” Rep. Murphy concluded. “For 30 years schools have been prevented by law from working with parents for the betterment of students and it has cost countless lives. Today that ends.”

The House of Representatives and the Senate must now reconcile the difference between their two bills before passing a final version and sending it to the President for his signature.


House of Representatives Feb. 7, 2008 press release

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