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Category: Education Law
Satisfied Customers: 73
Experience:  Sworn to the California Bar in 2011. Former staff editor at The New York Times Co. and seasoned news professional of 20 years experience in the U.S. and abroad.
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Medical School; I was in my last year of Medical School

Customer Question

Medical School;
I was in my last year of Medical School (Passed all licensing exams without any issues/retakes) and "withdrew". I put that in quotation because it was either withdraw or be dismissed.
The school recently recommended my dismissal due to my decline in performance. Why did it decline? I didn't match this past March.
***Important note - I was contacted by a career advisor at this school and recommended to stay another year to do more rotations and get more letters to re-apply for residency the coming fall. I reluctantly agreed. ***
I wasn't in a position to be in a hospital/study. My grades suffered.
Normally, I'd take full responsibility if I didn't try to prevent this. However, I am livid because I tried to get a handle of this...
I asked for a medical leave of absence (for 1 month, maybe 2 months if needed) to seek help, get myself together and come back healthier. My Career Advisor denied me the leave of absence (Even though the student handbook/guideline specifically states students have up to 18 months leave of absence if need be for medical/health or even personal reasons). He told me it wasn't feasible... Even though I was well within my right. I have this conversation IN EMAIL showing how I not only requested the leave, but explained why I needed it and the concerns I had if I continued.
The denial meant I had to suffer... My grades declined. Especially in May wherein I dealt with the reality of not graduating/not matching. I failed the rotation in May. I had no reason to give - I was miserable. I was alone. I wasn't able to get help, couldn't get help, and felt like no one wanted to help me. This lead to a series of events wherein I was recommended for dismissal by my school. I had no choice.
I exhausted all options at my school. No one listened to me. I did get help from a therapist.I had them write a formal letter detailing my diagnosis. I gave it to the school in email and the Dean of Student Affairs later denied ever getting such a letter.I feel as though the more evidence I provide, the worse I made my situation. I don't know what to do anymore. I look at the sequence of events and all I see is violations of the contract I went into with this school.
How can I even LEGALLY approach this? Is there anything?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Education Law
Expert: replied 1 year ago.

Hi, I'm Scott, and will try to provide some helpful perspective.
First, the disclosures: I'm sure you understand that I cannot provide legal advice in this communication; I'm licensed to practice law only in California and you and I have no lawyer-client relationship.

First thing you need to be clear on is your goal and what is most important:
-- reinstatement to school so you can finish, graduate, take your boards & practice?
-- sue the school in an attempt to obtain compensation for perceived wrongs?
-- some combination?

If your goal is reinstatement, then

I would need rather more of a complete chronology and details on your circumstances.
For example, how the condition affected your academic performance and whether reasonable accommodation why by the school would offset that. And such things as why does your "career advisor" have authority to deny a medical leave?

So I hope you understand there are processes and procedures here outsiders have no idea about, that will take time to convey and sort out. Please consider consulting a lawyer in your jurisdiction as your best next step. I know you did not want to hear this, because of the costs for even a hour's consultation, but there are facts and circumstances that need to be communicated that are beyond the scope of this forum.
Also, for cost-benefit consideration, how important is this to you and the rest of your life? Is some investment now required to save all that?

So, all that said:
Speaking only generally, U.S. courts give universities and post-graduate institutions like medical schools significant deference regarding academic program decisions. That is, when a school makes a decision with respect to a student's academic performance, the university is usually given broad leeway to do so, and will generally be considered to have acted properly.

Discrimination, under the ADA, Civil Rights Act, etc., is one area that can provide an avenue for relief: being treated differently and detrimentally than other students in similar circumstances. But discrimination will have to be illustrated clearly. For example, if the school terminated your enrollment without notice and based entirely on a qualifying disability, such as epilepsy (a disability as recognized under anti-discrimination law), or other protected classification such as gender, race or religion.

You mention requesting a medical leave, and having sufficient grounds, and that the school procedures allowed for such -- but that it was denied. Why? Did they provide a reason? Or prcedure for appeal, which is usually provided for by schools.

So the devil is in the details.

Re-read the entire school policies related to this situation, and specifically the medical leaves: what conditions qualify for the leaves, the notice required by the school, and the requirements for re-entry.

Check to be sure student actions conformed with all appropriate procedures: Why or why not?
Check to see if the school's response to you also conformed with THEIR obligations under their own policy -- especially with respect to notice and appeal on their decisions.

Try and determine if they violated their own policies and procedures in student's case: document it as well as possible, and with as much detail as possible, and illustrate (if possible) how the school has treated student differently than other students in same situation.

Then, write an even-toned, balanced letter petitioning the university for reconsideration with respect to student's re-enrollment and completion. Provide the details and state the case as objectively as possible.

If the school administrators will not reconsider or offer other avenue for appeal, student should really consider paying to consult a lawyer. With the review of the school policies and documentation of your circumstances already completed, it will be greatly helpful and speedy to whoever you consult.
And the clock is always ticking.

Also, be aware, claims of breach of contract against institutions of higher learning are rarely successful, because schools generally don't -- and perforce cannot -- guarantee any student's ability to complete or learn, as far as academics are concerned, Schools are expected to adhere to their own policies as promulgated in the student handbooks, regulations, etc., and can be held to do so, which is why it is important of have a complete understanding of those policies and procedures.

This is probably not the "easy answer" such as we're all hoping to hear, but there are rarely easy, simple, quick answers, and lawyers cannot always deliver the response that people want.

But if you found this perspective helpful, I would appreciate positive rating.
Thanks & Best!