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Information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. If you have a legal problem, consult your institutional counsel or an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. Information and views presented in this blog are solely those of the individual contributors and not their employers.

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Medical Amnesty Laws: Providing a Safe Environment for Students on Campus

Underage drinking and illegal drug use are increasing problems on American college campuses. Since traditional students enroll in higher education before they are of legal-age to drink alcohol, many students find themselves caught in situations that result in accidental death that could be prevented by seeking medical help. While state laws and policies make it illegal for students under 21 years of age or any student to engage in drug use, these laws and policies do not reflect the reality among many college communities.  As a result, students are increasingly fretful of the consequences by calling the authorities or seeking medical attention for themselves or their friends.  While many students have lost their lives, this also poses a legal liability for institutions of higher education. 

 In 1998, an international network of students banded together to create the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). SSDP was formed in order to create ‘safe spaces’ on campuses through institutional policies and to have honest conversations about drugs and drug policy. Lately, they have been champions in advocating for Campus Good Samaritan Laws or a Good Samaritan Policy (GSP) for institutions all over the world. A GSP “is a life-saving measure designed to prevent students from hesitating to call for medical assistance in the event of a medical emergency related to alcohol or other drugs.” SSDP argues that institutions which lack a clear, concise, and comprehensive GSP risk an increase in the likelihood that life-threatening emergencies will become fatal since students are increasingly hesitant to contact authorities in fear of judicial and criminal prosecution.

 There are four levels that amnesty can offer protection. The individual level offers protection and amnesty only to the individual requiring medical attention. The student assisting level offers amnesty to the student requiring medical attention and the student seeking help for the other student.  Caller amnesty protects anyone who calls for medical attention on behalf of another student, and organizational amnesty provides the highest level of protection that these laws offer. This level of protection would protect an organization from sanctions if an incident occurred on their property or at their event.  

 States have also begun to enact amnesty laws protecting underage drinkers that seek medical help from criminal prosecution. Earlier this year, Illinois introduced legislation that would protect underage drinkers who call 911 for medical emergencies. Illinois has joined 32 other states granting amnesty state-wide and helping provide a safer environment for young adults. Opponents of such laws and policies cite a challenge to campus efforts to restrict alcohol abuse and a possibility of the ‘creation’ of emergency situations for students to escape prosecution as reasons these policies should be abolished. These laws and policies can have tremendous impact on campus culture and ensuring student health and safety.

 While these laws and policies could save the lives of many young people, these initiatives allow for policy makers and institutions to be proactive to the realistic student and campus environment.  Amnesty laws could have prevented thousands of accidental deaths across the country, including these in Indiana and New Jersey.

This post was co-authored by Daniel Murray and Dr. David Nguyen.  Mr. Murray is a masters student in the higher education program at UND.  


A few recent developments in the new year...

We hope that our loyal blog subscribers enjoyed a wonderful and restful holiday season. While hopefully many of us were taking a much needed respite, the courts were busy deciding several worthwhile cases related to higher education.

One case of note comes from the University of Hawaii, involving a student in a teacher preparation program who was denied his degree for comments he made related to adult-child sex as well as his belief that "9 out of 10" students in special education classes are fakers. As Inside Higher Ed reported earlier this week, the appellate court in upholding the university's decision did give nod to the law related to academic freedom and the free speech rights of students and public employees. However, the court hinged its decision largely on case law recognizing the discretion of profesional programs, most notably teacher preparation programs, and their right to uphold professional standards of ethics and conduct. The Ninth Circuit ruling can be found here. My fellow bloggers Neal Hutchens and Jeff Sun have done extensive work examining the legal trends related to such cases: do students in practicum and internship experiences function, for the sake of legal analysis, as students or public employees? Their article introducing the "curricular nexus test", which was published in 2013 in the University of Pennsylvania's Journal of Constitutional Law can be found here. Also an article I co-authored with Neal and Jeff, along with James Breslin, titled "Employee or Student? The First Amendment and Student Speech Arising in Practica and Internships" can be downloaded here.

In another case, on Monday the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with Kent State University stemming from a suit filed claiming that the university violated the Fair Housing Act by denying two students the right to utilize emotional support animals while residing in university housing. We reported on the blog in 2013 a similar case from the University of Nebraska Kearney as well as guidance published by HUD related to service animals, ADA, and the Fair Housing Act.


Fisher II in the U.S. Supreme Court: Will race-conscious admissions survive?

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, hears for a second time, Fisher v. University of Texas, to determine if the University's implementation of its admissions plan, in conjunction with the state of Texas' Top Ten Percent Law, meets the two-prong strict scrutiny standard.  In 2011, Fisher sued the University of Texas claiming that she was denied admission into UT Austin because of her race.  Many were fearful that the U.S. Supreme Court's granting of certiorari for this case signaled the possibility the the Court would outlaw race-conscious admissions all-together since it was less than a decade after Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger when the Court ruled that race can be considered in admissions applications in a holistic review supporting the ruling in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California that diversity in higher education is a compelling state interest. 

In 2013, in Fisher I, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled and remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for its improper application of the strict scrunity standard.  The Fisher I Court ruled that the strict scrunity standard does not permit the Court of Appeas to defer to the University's judgment that it considered in good faith race-neutral alternatives. While the Fifth Circuit again reviewed UT Austin's admissions policies and found them constitutional, Fisher again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court even though she has now graduated from Louisiana State University. 

The outcome of this case may impact the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies that have been found to be critical for universites to provide a diverse student body.  In addition, this ruling may have implications to diversity in K-12 schools and faculty hiring.  Regardless of the Court's decision, it is imperative for institutions and administrators to support and priortize initiatives to advance diversity and inclusion. 


Students and Gun Ownership

As the world endures another tragedy, with firearms, an interesting article was recently written on youth and the firearm industry. An article that looked at the firearm industry and how gun sellers have focused marketing to high school students under the umbrella of sports, specifically shooting sports. You can find the full article here. The article focused on organizations developing youth ambassadors, with a goal of creating social acceptance of shooting sports.

Whether one is a strong advocate for the right to bear arms or a strong advocate for stricter gun control legislation, the article delved into a perspective in the firearm industry that looks at specific strategies to engage students in firearm use and ownership.

This strategy, if successful, could have a significant impact on high school students and college students entering campuses over the next three to four years. The article is a good reminder looking at it through the lenses of access and education or no access to firearms, campus weapons policies are something all educational institutions need to monitor and evaluate on a regular basis. Student safety is a number one priority at any educational institution and being proactive, instead of retroactive, to your student population can make a substantial difference in your risk management success.


AAUP Annual Conference Call for Proposals

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has issued the call for proposals for its 2016 annual conference, which will be held in June in Washington, D.C. Information about the call for proposals is available here.