Controversial policy up for review

Winter Keefer

As a result of changes in federal regulation, NMU, along with many other universities, is awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights concerning protocols to assist students who are a danger to themselves, according to an email sent campus-wide Sept. 26.

re-chrisgreerThe NMU student hand- book policy 3.12, relating to student self-destructive behavior is currently marked as up for review due to these changes.

Policy 3.12 states, “Attempted or threatened suicide or self-inflicted physical harm is an occasional form of student behavior with which the University is unsuited to cope on any but the most temporary basis.”

It goes on to say that physically self-destructive behavior “simply cannot be ignored” by the university.

“Therefore, unless such behavior is to be permitted to cause profound changes in the activities of University faculty, staff and other students, it may be necessary to withdraw students who manifest such behavior from the University…”

This policy is separate from the former practice of implementing negative disciplinary action against students who speak with their peers about thoughts of self-harm.

A petition was created on- line in November to remove policy 3.12 from the student handbook, but the policy has been up for review due to changes made to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since 2011. It has not been active since then.

ADA was created by the Department of Justice in 1990. Title II of the ADA encompasses nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services and was published by the

Department of Justice in 1991, according to ada.gov.

The goal of Title II is to improve access for people with disabilities so that they can benefit from the goods, services and activities provided to the public by covered entities.

Christine Greer, associate vice president and dean of students, explained that prior to 2011, Title II said universities could respond and take action against students who are a threat to themselves or a threat to others.

In 2011, the “threat to self” part of Title II was removed.

The wording of the updated section involving self-harm can be found in part 35.139 of ADA Title II Regulations titled “Direct threat.” A PDF of the document can be found at ada.gov.

Policy 3.12 in the NMU handbook encompassed this piece of Title II of the ADA and was last reviewed in 2006, before changes were made, Greer said.

“So 2006 seems like an old policy, but really it was shelved after five years, which isn’t long for a policy,” Greer said.

In order to keep necessary accommodations for those with disabilities up to date, the Department of Justice reviews its Title II regulations to be sure they encompass the social and economic realities faced by Americans with disabilities, according to redinfo.gov.

The Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights provides guidance to universities on how to implement this ruling, Greer said.

“We’ve been awaiting promised guidance [from the federal government] that we haven’t yet received,” Greer said.

NMU is not the only university waiting for guidance, Greer added.

“What universities and university attorneys said was, ‘Well how are we supposed to react to students who are a threat to themselves?’ and [federal officials] said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll get

back to you.’ Since then we still haven’t heard anything,” Greer said.

NMU has been waiting for further guidance on how to assist students who are a danger to themselves for too many years,

Assistant Vice President of University Marketing and Communications Derek Hall said.

“For us right now, we’re waiting for direction from the Department of Education in Washington because that’s where we get our cues from when it comes to building policies,” Hall said. “We’ve been waiting since 2011 for this direction.”

Until direction is given, “NMU will not prohibit the continued enrollment of students who manifest self-destructive behavior, unless that behavior is disruptive to the NMU community,” according to the student handbook.