Earlier this year, I signed up for an online Anatomy and Physiology course where the lecture portion of the class was online and the lab portion of the class was in the classroom once a week. Two days after I could withdraw for a full refund, the teacher sent an e-mail to the class stating that our lecture exams would be given in class on lab days instead of online. The only portion of the class that was going to be online were the powerpoint presentations which we were to download and study independently prior to the in class exams. I signed up for this class specifically because I was looking to be able to take the exams at home, on my own time, according to my own schedule, and the course description specifically stated that the lecture portion would be online - it said nothing about taking exams in class. When I went to discuss this with the school, they stated to me that it was the teachers discretion and that I would only get a 75% refund for tuition paid if I withdrew at that time. I explained to them the circumstances, and they still stated to me that because I was coming on campus anyway for lab, it shouldn't be a big deal. They never told me prior to starting the class that every three weeks, one hour of lab would be taken to take lecture exams. It was only after class started that the teacher sent the e-mail, clearly changing the rules for the class. I withdrew from class specifically because of the changes made by the teacher after class was started, and again, she only informed me of these changes after class started and after the last day to withdraw for a full refund. I would have had to withdraw from class by May 18, 2012 for a full refund and she did not send the e-mail regarding this until May 20, 2012. I had to withdraw from class immediately because if I had waited the two weeks for the school's appeal to go through, I would have probably not gotten any refund as the 75% refund expired on May 25, 2012. I am looking to see what action I can take against the teacher and the school in order to obtain at least my full refund, as they only sent me 75% of the refund. I also now have to wait a year to take this class at another school, which puts me a full year behind in school. Can I sue in small claims court for punitive damages as well as the rest of the tuition I paid?
Thank you for your question.Generally speaking an educator does have discretion in how a class is run or managed. Therefore the change, for the most part, is permitted, provided that you were not forced to spend additional time on campus (meaning that the lab work and the lecture all were done within the same time-frame). I agree with you that it is a substantial and a material change (meaning that it was a change large enough that you or other students might not have signed up for the class in the first place), and because of this you may have grounds in small claims for breach of contract based on your detrimental reliance on their initial terms that were communicated to you. Small claims does not permit you to sue for punitive damages, you could only sue for your direct damages, which would be tuition. Please be advised, however, that if the time has not changed (you were not being requested to stay longer in class), the courts may side with the school as they would not see injury toward you. Since your time commitment would not have changed, the court may not see a substantial change to you and might therefore uphold their right to withhold a portion of your tuition.Good luck.Dimitry Esquire41067.6476140394
Thank you for replying. I understand what you are saying, but in addition to what I was saying before, my concern is the fact that I am also not getting my full lab time's worth because every three weeks, an hour is going to be taken out of lab for the exams. This cuts into the time I would be using for learning in lab, and on top of that, there is the added stress of having to take not only a lecture exam but also a lab exam. The stress associated with taking both exams in class is the reason I took the online class. There was an option to take the course and lab both in class, and I decided on the online class for the specific purpose of taking the lecture exams online. If I had decided to take the lecture in the classroom, I would have been taking exams during the class time, and not losing lab time.
Thank you for your follow-up.I can understand that, and also see the inherent unfairness of having the teacher cut off your lab time, which where you can practically learn what you are simply reading about in theory. However that is still up to the teacher, and if the teacher wishes to give exams in person, it is his right to do so. In terms of your stress, that is something you would not be able to pursue via small claims should you try, because emotional distress claims are beyond the scope of the court.Good luck.Dimitry Esquire41067.6564694444
Thank you. I understand what you are saying, and my biggest concern isn't the stress. I just want my full refund back and I want the school to be aware that they should be forthcoming with students instead of falsely advertising to the public or misleading the student into think that's what they are getting, when in fact, after all is said and done, the teacher changes the policy. I appreciate your time. Thank you again.
Thank you for your follow-up, and you are most welcome.I absolutely understand what you are trying to accomplish, but it would be unprofessional of me not to point out the risks and not to point out that this situation is not as strong in your favor as you may hope it to be. While you may be able to prevail, since facially nothing really changed from the perspective of timing, the courts may side with the school and not grant you the remaining tuition.Good luck.Dimitry Esquire41067.6645680556
Experienced Education Law Attorney
I understand what you are saying. I want you to be honest with me as that is why I sought your assistance, and I appreciate you being honest and sincere with me. Thank you again for all of your help.
You are most welcome and good luck to you. Please let me know how else I can assist you at this time.Dimitry Esquire41067.6684105671
DISCLAIMER: Answers from Experts on JustAnswer are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney. JustAnswer is a public forum and questions and responses are not private or confidential or protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Expert above is not your attorney, and the response above is not legal advice. You should not read this response to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law that might affect the situation you describe. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction to which your question pertains.
The responses above are from individual Experts, not JustAnswer. The site and services are provided “as is”. To view the verified credential of an Expert, click on the “Verified” symbol in the Expert’s profile. This site is not for emergency questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service (last updated February 8, 2012).