Public institutions can't ask students about mental, criminal history

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by Jeremy Desel / KHOU 11 News

kvue.com

Posted on April 10, 2013 at 9:39 PM

HOUSTON, Texas -- As we’re learning more about the man accused of stabbing 14 students at the Long Star College Cy-Fair campus, it makes you wonder how much you really know the people sitting around you.

It turns out public institutions in Texas are not allowed to ask about mental issues or whether students have a criminal record.

"In Texas it is clear. There is no duty to investigate. No duty to discover. And if you do, there is no duty to inform,” said KVUE's sister station KHOU's legal analyst Gerald Treece.

That means legally, state colleges and universities, like Lone Star College, cannot ask questions about potential students’ medical or criminal history.

"I think that it is the risk and the challenge of living in a free community," said Dr. George Santos, a psychiatrist and board member of the Harris Health System.

Santos says medical information is completely protected and cannot be disclosed.

Texas law differs from many other states. Mental health professionals have no duty to notify anyone of trouble, unless it is an imminent threat.

“Then I could contact law enforcement and initiate a process for that patient to be evaluated,” said Santos.

The patient could even be committed, but that is completely up to the therapist.

"There is no real accurate way of determining future threat,” said Santos. “Even the vast amount of patients with psychosis like schizophrenia have no history of violence."

The biggest challenge is without rights of privacy, patients who really need help may not seek treatment.

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