Jared Lee Loughner has been charged with the January 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona that killed six people and left 14 others injured. Initially after the shooting, the media speculated that Loughner’s reasons had been fueled by political rhetoric or perhaps flawed gun laws. Eventually Pima Community College, where Jared Loughner attended, found itself under the media microscope as the main source of blame. PCC has been scrutinized for not taking sufficient action dealing with Jared Loughner by mandating through law that he attended mental health support which could have potentially prevented the tragedy from occurring. Did Pima Community College take the correct steps with Jared Loughner, and if it did, was it enough? Perhaps no excuse can be justified as to why the institution did not obligate itself to take court action. I will unravel answers to these questions for parents still wondering.
First off, facts must be known in order to understand what steps should have been taken by Pima Community College. Forrest Carr, KGUN 9 News Director in Tucson, AZ confronted the college as allegedly withholding vital information (1). PCC was seen being pressured to reveal pertinent information to the public which focused on unveiling whether the manner in which PCC handled troubled student Jared Loughner was suitable. Furthermore Carr’s article brings up in what ways Pima Community College may be responsible for the behaviors of Jared Loughner. This is done by stressing the importance that PCC is not sharing all the facts to the public but does not logically prove anything. Therefore, since assumptions are not viable I will fix this problem with proper research.
Now, it is important to keep in mind The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This limits the abilities to share information with those who could help, but according to Steven McDonald, an expert on student privacy laws and campus safety, “FERPA is much less constraining than is often portrayed” (Gorski). Exemptions are revealed that would prevent Pima from being punished based on taking action that is deemed rational by court, but as Steven McDonald puts it “What you’re really doing is deciding, ‘Where do I want to make the mistakes? Do I want to be over-broad in protecting civil liberties or over-broad in protecting safety?’ “And you’re never going to get it exactly right” (1). It is important to keep in mind student rights such as free speech and the possibility of overtaking action when the college had to take into consideration civil liberties and the privacy laws, all of which could have caused problems when making decisions. Eric Gorski, an education writer from the Associated Press, states, “limited resources, complicated laws, more students in need of mental health help…schools face the conundrum of trying to create a safe environment without overreacting” (1). It is also important on focusing to reiterate the difficulty in blaming Pima Community College for Loughner’s actions because of all the factors that justify it. Karen Bower and Victor Schwartz, Mental Health Care in the College Community presents a review of both state and federal law concerning the concept of confidentiality in the mental health setting. The authors are backed by clinical and administrative experiences as well as being renowned in their fields and present an objective view that focuses on properly educating those that must endure confrontations with troubled students. They explain the complexity of legal and ethical issues involving the Family Education and Privacy Act. Research into the book reveals that these laws exist to constantly balance between satisfying conflicting values of individual rights against the need for order, structure, and even a degree of conformity, so that the college can function effectively (114-115). At this point it is clear to see that matters dealing with Jared Loughner were beyond Pima’s control and that the college was placed in a catch-22.
A.G. Sulzeberger and Trip Gabriel wrote an article entitled College’s Policy on Troubled Students Raises Questions. If you were to read this article without doing more research you could argue that Pima Community College’s course of action was faulty and inexcusable. The following quote suggests that the college was possibly lackadaisical in its attempt to manage Loughner. “It is part of our practice to provide students with information of where they can go,” said Charlotte Fugett, an official at the college, “It’s their responsibility to find a practitioner” (1). Though this statement appeared to have a lack of concern it does not make it false as explained in this next quote. “It’s not illegal to be a college student with mental health issues,” said Ada Meloy from the American Council on Education. “There are plenty of them out there. It’s very difficult to determine which ones merit being isolated from the college community” (Gorski). As more and more students present the need for mental health, how can Pima be blamed if there are potentially hundreds of students like Jared Loughner walking on college campuses across the country?
Sulzeberger and Gabriel make a rational suggestion that Pima’s act of suspending Loughner may have pushed him over the edge by adding grievances and isolating him from people who could have monitored him (1). Then the writers follow with, “He wasn’t going to school, he wasn’t working, he was just sitting at home thinking whatever he was thinking,” from a student from Pima (1). This implies that PCC’s actions allowed Loughner time to create a deviant plan in which he did not return to his former campus or workplace for the shooting spree. However no proof exists. The writers continue to present the college as having poor standards and that it would have cost PCC nothing to make a phone call and consult with a professional (1). Did Pima misunderstand the state’s laws regarding involuntary evaluations? Though this point seems valid their argument is irrational and doesn’t properly present itself by explaining the necessary steps colleges must take when dealing with students in need of mental health support.
The fact is Jared Loughner did not commit the mass shooting until three months after him and his parents were given the ultimatum: Get a mental health evaluation or don’t come back (Flaccus). Different entities or institutions could very well be accountable for different reasons and leads to this question, why didn’t his parents intercede and force Loughner to get help? The answer lies in Gillian Flaccus’s article How Jared Loughner Fell Through The Mental Health Cracks. If parents suspect their child might have a major mental illness, an array of emotional and bureaucratic hurdles must be faced such as from their own fears to strict laws that limit involuntary commitment and create limitations in services (1). In relation to this, though Jared Loughner was never diagnosed for a mental illness experts state Loughner clearly had schizophrenia. A practicing psychiatrist and university teacher explains that one of the key symptoms of schizophrenia is a lack of awareness and denial (1). This means that as Loughner’s behavior spun increasingly out of control he would have inevitably refused treatment even if involuntarily committed. Furthermore, in Arizona over the past two years 14,000 mentally ill patients have had all services cut except for their medications, that includes counseling, case management, psychiatric care, transportation, and peer support groups that often prevent patients from reaching a crisis stage where they could commit a violent act (1). This information reveals that had the college taken additional steps that could have possibly evaded state law, though unlikely as explained earlier, attempts made by the college would have been met with different limitations. It is also clear to understand that missed intervention in Loughner’s case had to do with his parents being incapable of helping their child due to a hindrance caused by the state of Arizona.
As a parent it is important to assert yourself by pursuing answers on your own accord. The media used a biased attempt to establish a lack of credibility towards Pima and did not produce a compelling case. As you can see through meaningful resources it is not enough to enact laws making involuntary civil commitment easier. It is also clear that the possibility of handling Jared Loughner in a different manner that could have prevented the Tucson tragedy was a matter beyond the control of Pima Community College.
I hope parents can use this information to develop, apply, and improve the school agenda for their child.
I would appreciate rational feedback and a personal reflection or thoughts in relation to this issue.
Bower, Karen and Schwartz, Victor. Mental Health Care in the College Community. Ed. Jerald Kay and Victor Schwartz. United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2010. Print.
Carr, Forrest. “Pima Community College stonewalling: Days 4, 5 and 6.” KGUN 9 News. 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.
Flaccus, Gillian. “How Jared Loughner Fell Through The Mental Health Cracks.” The Huffington Post. 12 Jan. 2011. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.
Gorski, Eric. “Colleges struggle to cope with troubled students.” Associated Press. 17 Jan. 2011. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.
Sulzberger, A.G. and Gabriel, Trip. “College’s Policy on Troubled Students Raises Questions.” The New York Times. New York Times, 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.