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Does a College Have to Alter its Educational Program to Accommodate a Disabled Student?

Does a College Have to Alter its Educational Program to Accommodate a Disabled Student?

Disability discrimination is not strictly limited to employment. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) guarantees access to a wide range of “goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.” This includes educational programs, which means colleges and universities must engage in an “interactive process” with disabled students who request a reasonable accommodation for their condition.

Student Accuses College of Not Accommodating Her ADHD

How far does a school have to go in altering its actual educational program to accommodate a disabled student? A pending federal lawsuit in upstate New York may provide some guidance on this question. The case, Jane Doe v. Skidmore College, involves a female undergraduate student who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although the plaintiff initially experienced no difficulty with her academic program during her first two years at the defendant college, she failed a summer class between her second and third years. A few months later, the plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

After receiving this diagnosis, the plaintiff and her mother met to “discuss specific accommodations” with a school official. The plaintiff actually requested a list of eight accommodations, including a requirement that school professors notify the plaintiff's parents if she fell behind on her work and missed an assignment. The plaintiff alleges the defendant agreed to all of the requested accommodations, although the defendant said it only agreed to some of them.

The plaintiff subsequently “experienced problems in two of her classes,” according to court records. In one case, the plaintiff failed to submit a term paper on time. The plaintiff alleged the defendant failed to notify her parents or advisors she had fallen behind, as they agreed to, and as a consequence she failed the class.

The plaintiff eventually sued the defendant for failure to accommodate her under the ADA and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). Among other relief, she asked the court to expunge the failing grade and permit her “an opportunity to fulfill the remaining requirements for that class and to have her final grade recalculated.” The defendant denied the allegations and moved for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing it “went above and beyond” its obligations under the ADA, and that making all of the accommodations requested by the plaintiff would be “unreasonable” and force it to “fundamentally alter” its educational program.

The judge declined to dismiss the lawsuit at this juncture. He said the plaintiff made a plausible case for disability discrimination. And he was not convinced that making the plaintiff's requested accommodation would unduly alter the school's educational mission. Furthermore, if the plaintiff's factual allegations are true, a jury could find the defendant failed to properly engage in the “interactive process” required by the ADA.

Speak with a NYC Disability Discrimination Lawyer Today

ADA claims are highly fact-specific. That is why it is critical to work with an experienced New York disability discrimination lawyer who can help you build your own case. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, today if you need advice or assistance on any discrimination-related matter.

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