Could Pima College have done more?

Everyone who encountered Jared Loughner at Pima Community College knew he was crazy and many feared he was dangerous.  He was suspended, but college officials didn’t file for a court-ordered mental-health evaluation, which Arizona law allows.  Could the college have done more to force Loughner into treatment and protect the Tucson community?

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s been said, but I don’t know if the facts are correct for AZ, that such an action could open the reporting entity up to a lawsuit. Remember that being sued and not losing is better than being sued and losing. But it’s still money and time and effort and bad PR.

  2. Cranberry says:

    In my opinion, no. Hindsight is 20/20, but the college is not responsible.

    Denise Hayes, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, said Pima had done what most colleges would in placing the responsibility to get a mental health exam on the student, especially since, as the college says, it also delivered the ultimatum to Mr. Loughner’s parents, with whom he lived.

    If one starts requiring colleges to take over psychiatric care for every student other students find scary, that is an enormous expansion of their mission. The college served him notice of its decision in front of his parents. If there is a responsibility to seek psychiatric care, it lies with his parents, not the college. After all, they had witnessed his deterioration from his high school days. They lived with him.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Why yes… the college could have done more.

    They could have locked him up at gun point.
    They could have subjected him to ECT.
    They could have forcibly sedated him into oblivion.

    But none of these things would be the sort of thing that colleges are designed to do, which is teach some subjects to their students.

    It’s not the college’s job to provide for the mental health of its students: that’s an optional *perk* that some colleges offer their students, which the students can take advantage of should they choose to.

  4. As I understand it, the college would have still had the burden of proof to prove to the court that he needed to get pyschiatric treatment. This isn’t always easy to do.

    I’m not sure about this case, but I think colleges are often more worried about the rights of the mentally ill person. I was rereading some of the details of the Virginia Tech case, and it seems like at the very least that guy should have been kicked out of the school.

    Years ago, I had a roommate in college who was mentally ill. As time went on, her behaviors became more disruptive. Plenty of people witnessed her behaviors. After she was taken away one night by the campus police to receive psychiatric care, I requested a roommate change. The dorm officials were hesitant to go forward with it, and seemed more worried about the roommate.

  5. So a campus psychologist recommended and initiated a 14 day psych review based on the student’s complaint about people were secretly filming her?
    Then she lost her scholarship, was kicked out of school and found a camera in her apartment.

    To bad in psych school, that one didn’t learn that the first rule of committment should be, you know, being sure that she wasn’t being secretly filmed. Kind of reminds me of the Gibson/Roberts movie.

    Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Right. I had forgotten that we are talking about an educational institution doing something rational. Stupid me.
    Can’t imagine what they would have “done” about Loughner.

  7. I think public schools should screen for serious mental illness the way they do for vision and hearing problems. We’d nip a lot of bad stuff in the bud if we did this.

  8. Ben F…we can’t pay for the special education services we DO have now. As it is, it takes the movement of heaven and earth to get a kid with manifesting serious mental illness to be qualified for services, and that’s with cooperative parents.

    Our current political philosophy with regard to education already balks at paying for providing appropriate academic intervention services. Just look at the comments on this blog and by our dear host for examples. The outcry if additional mental illness screenings were added, with the additional expense and need for personnel, would deafen you.

  9. Joyce –alas, you’re probably right. The government-is-the-problem mentality is too strong. Government IS good for some things, and this is one of them.

  10. cranberry says:

    It seems Loughner was “normal” for much of high school. His slide into madness is by now exceptionally well-documented. At many points, “government” officials could have chosen to have him committed, but they didn’t.

    I do not think it’s a good idea to require school officials to “screen for mental illness.” They aren’t trained for it. Look what a mess they make of zero tolerance policies for gang behavior, drugs & alcohol, and weapons. If you give them the power to commit students to a mental hospital involuntarily, they will use it. They’ll use it on the wrong people, of course. I also would not want to give school officials the right to access the medical records of students and family members. I find the whole confidentiality concept overblown in today’s society, but I certainly would not want students and families to face demands to release private medical records in order to re-enroll students in school.

    As schizophrenia runs in some families, I would predict that any number of students could be denied an education, just for looking at an administrator’s child in a frightening way. “oh, well, he’s just like his cousin Jethro, and we know how he turned out.”

  11. Most years I have one or two seventh graders that I can tell are going to become schizophrenic. I have two this year. One was already notorious in elementary school. They called her “Crazy Jane” for her off-the-handle fits, her brazen lies, her disconnection from reality, her paranoia. Yet the schools don’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole.

    I went to college with an adult schizophrenic –undiagnosed and untreated. She dropped out and spent years embroiled with the justice system in Long Island. The costs to the taxpayers of Long Island must have been astronomical. Among other misdeeds, she stalked a judge.

    If it were cancer and not mental illness, wouldn’t you want the schools to label and treat it as early as possible? Mental illnesses like schizophrenia and personality disorder are very serious and real and potentially very harmful.

  12. Ben F-
    The problem is that there really isn’t much in the way for treatment of serious psychiatric disorders… just commitment.

  13. I don’t how they do these things in Arizona. My answer in Pennsylvania,as to whether the college could have forced Loughner into treatment, would be “No.” Weirdness just doesn’t make it. From what I have read about the case, his parents certainly could have petitioned him, but I don’t believe that the college had enough.

    Now the college could have “invited” him to check himself into the Bozo Barracks, and they almost did that, from what we understand.

    The mental health procedures aspects of this case are fascinating and manifold. Books could be written about this alone.

  14. cranberry says:

    Ben F, I wouldn’t expect schools to be able to diagnose cancer. Many doctors admit they can’t diagnose cancer, and refer patients who might have cancer to specialists.

    Your proposals would increase school liability, without improving children’s education one whit. I would predict that a number of children who behave “weirdly,” would be denied an education.

    Schools can and should provide orderly classrooms. If a student distracts others, he should not be allowed to remain in a school which can’t handle him. The “alternative” schools probably should have psychiatrists on staff. Students with serious mental illness are likely to end up in the schools set up for kids who can’t deal with the regular schools. On the other hand, commitment isn’t forever these days, unless you’re dangerously insane. As far as I can tell from the news, Loughner was behaving weirdly, after a certain point in high school. Until he stared threatening people, he could only have been treated if he had consented to treatment.

    It would be interesting to propose that internet sites should be able to refer people for treatment. It seems that the internet communities he interacted with decided that he was insane–and they were right.

  15. Since Ben F is able to predict which children will develop schizophrenia, I suggest that the Government hire him and he can travel from school to school indentifying said children. The Government can then use its healing powers to treat these children for the disease that they are sure to develop in young adulthood. This is quite a feat to predict schizophrenia in children since the average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. The disease is rather rare in children, afflicting about 1 in 40,000.

    I’m no math wiz, but let me see if I’ve got this right. According to what I could quickly find online there were an estimated 35 million children from grade 1-8 in US public schools in 2009. If 1 in 40,000 of them have child-onset schizophrenia, then we can estimate that 875 of those students have this horrible disease. The same NCES website says that there were 98,916 K-8 public schools in 2008 (no 2009 # there). So, if my math is at all correct, that means that there would be .01 schizophrenic kids per school. How in the world did one or two a year end up in Ben F’s class? Of course that’s just the kids who have it as actual children, so perhaps Ben means he can predict it in children who will not show any symptoms until they are young adults which would increase the number per school.

    I’m curious Ben, as one who has this special gift of predicting schizophrenia, did you inform the parents of this schizophrenic girl of your diagnosis so that she could get the care she needs or are you waiting for the government to help her?

  16. Geena, what can I say? My intuition, based on experience with real schizophrenics, tells me that Jane is on track to become one. I would bet a lot of money that I’m right. But I don’t have iron-clad proof, and it sounds like you think I should just be quiet unless I do.

  17. By the way, another parent has told me that Jane’s mom seems “crazy” as well.

  18. How are we supposed to prevent another Columbine if we don’t keep our eyes peeled for serious mental illness? (From what I have read, Dylan Klebold was a psychopath; bullying was not the prime cause).

  19. cranberry says:

    Perhaps a psychological evaluation should be ordered for all young offenders? The two Columbine creeps had already been involved in the juvenile justice system.

    As Geena points out, serious mental illness is very rare. It is not so rare in the nation’s prisons. As people’s behavior becomes more erratic, they are more and more likely to be arrested at some point. For all I know, courts may already do this, but it would be a more rational use of resources to create a system of juvenile justice system child psychologists, who might be able to separate out the teens whose lives could be saved by treatment from those who choose to commit crimes.

    Of course (if I can dream), at best, there would be special schools for kids who really, really need to stay on their meds, and who need staff trained to spot looming breakdowns. I know there are private, “therapeutic” boarding schools for the wealthy, but I don’t think there are public equivalents.