On Friday, the NC Board of Community Colleges approved a rule that would allow individual colleges to bar students who pose an “articulable, imminent and significant threat.” This isn’t a done deal yet… the rule still has to go before a rules committee in March for final approval. But already, advocates for people with disabilities are raising questions.
My first call was to Vicky Smith at Disability Rights. She says they’ve been expressing their doubts and concerns about the rule since it was proposed last fall (the post-Tuscon timing is coincidental – actually the CCBoard started work on this last year in response to the Virginia Tech massacre). She says the rule quite possibly runs afoul of the ADA (link on the right) and the Rehabilitation Act, in particular Section 504. In that part of the law, it says
(a) No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 7(20), shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…
What that means is that if during a screening, someone is flagged as being an “articulable, imminent and significant threat” due, perhaps to mental illness, then they can be denied admission to the school. But it’s something of a Catch-22… the community college system is an all-comers system. There’s no screening process other than confirming residency and that you have a high school diploma or GED. So, Smith had a question… how would this ‘threat’ be screened for if there’s no screening process done? She feared the criteria would be arbitrary, and ultimately discriminatory. They detail their concerns in this letter (PDF).
That’s the fear being expressed by advocates for people with mental illness.
I asked that question of board spokeswoman Megan Hoenk several times… what she did say is that the rule is not a blanket requirement… each of the system’s 58 colleges can choose whether or not to implement it. However, Hoenk didn’t really answer the question about how the determination of an imminent threat would be made – either how the screening would be done, or what criteria would be used.
Each school has a code of conduct for current students… why aren’t the current codes adequate to deal with potentially violent students?