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P. Simmons
P. Simmons, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 25407
Experience:  16 yrs. of trial experience
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I am currently enrolled in Walden Universitys online Doctor

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I am currently enrolled in Walden University's online Doctor of Business Administration program and have been diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia. I have requested an accommodation asking Walden University to allow me to take the final face-to-face residency virtually. The university has the means to do so, as they offer virtual residencies for other PhD programs. I understand that I was aware that the face-to-face residencies were a requirement prior to enrolling in the program, and attended a residency 2 years ago, but since my condition has worsened, I had to take a leave of absence from the program, I am now unemployable, considered 100% disabled by the VA, and home bound. I have since been reinstated in the program making strides to complete it one step at a time as I am in treatment. After formally requesting the accommodation with supporting medical documentation, this was the response I received:

Unfortunately, I cannot approve that specific request. Physical attendance at residency is considered an “essential component” of your program and not something I can alter or adjust as an accommodation. Some of the learning outcomes tied to the residencies cannot be achieved in a virtual environment. We’ve had conversations about this issue with the highest level of governance overseeing higher education in America on behalf of students with similar disabilities to yours. BotXXXXX XXXXXne, the university gets to decide what aspects of their programs are essential and maintain those standards. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but students who are not able to achieve the essential components of this program by meeting all the requirements, including physical attendance at residencies, are not “otherwise qualified” for the program. The residency requirements should not be new information for you.

I know this is not the answer you want and no one is questioning your justification for asking. We understand your disability issues and are sympathetic to the challenges you face. Your needs are only half of the equation, however. The other half is the responsibility of the university to deliver the curriculum. The university has determined it cannot deliver the curriculum in the manner it is accredited and to the degree expected by stakeholders without this essential program component. It’s important you understand, before you spend more time and money; Walden’s position has not and won’t change. If you cannot meet the residency requirement, I encourage you to consider a program that does not require it.

I hope you will make your health your priority and, if you and your doctors determine travel is not advisable, accept that this program is not the right one for you. However, if there’s a way you can travel to residencies, we will do all we can to make it work for you.

----

I am not clear as to why Walden University recognizes and does all they can for physical disabilities, but does not recognize mental illness. I understand the faculty may not want their justification to travel to exotic places and have a paid vacation disrupted, but having attended the first residency, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing presented in person that cannot be obtained virtually. The residencies include instructors reading PowerPoint slides, that are later e-mailed to the students for reference. I am not clear as to why I would have to subject myself to a traumatic situation to have PowerPoint slides read to me. We live in a climate now where there are many means to obtain information virtually, as this is an online institution. Walden University recruits students under the premise that they are a disabled-vet friendly school, and I believe it should recognize mental illness and make an honest effort to accommodate those that require an online venue to complete the residency.

Is there a recommended legal course of action I should consider taking? If nothing else, to do my part in starting the conversation to break the barriers mentally ill students have to face.
Submitted: 5 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  P. Simmons replied 5 months ago.
Hi, My name is Philip. I am an attorney with over 16 years experience. Hopefully I can help you with your legal question.

I am sorry for this dilemma.

Though as I read the response from the school, I do not view it as they "(do) not recognize mental illness"

I read their response as to indicate that they have made legally required "accommodations" in your case.

Let me back up...

The laws that apply here are the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, amended in 2008,
and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

These laws require colleges that receive federal funding to make "reasonable accommodations" for individuals with a a physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. What you describe? You have that.

In order to require the college to follow the law, the student must first make a request for a reasonable accommodation. What you describe? You have done that.

The next step is for the college to evaluate the request and make a reasonable accommodation, if appropriate. This is where it gets complex...

The school is not required to provide you with a course substitution nor allow you to skip that requirement, if it would result in a substantial change to an essential element of the school's curriculum.

Schools are allowed to set their academic standards, and are not required to lower their standards
as a reasonable accommodation.

However, the school must undertake a diligent assessment of the available academic options before denying a request for a course substitution. If it determines that offering you a course substitution would lower academic standards or fundamentally alter an essential part of the school’s academic program, then the school may deny your request.


I read the response to you as the school claiming that it performed this assessment and they determined that they could not grant your request. This part is required by law...that is, you made the request, the school is required to respond to that request. They did. So they satisfied the legal requirement.

So...where does that leave you?

I agree with you...to me it seems your request is reasonable and that it would not alter the academic standards or fundamentally alter an essential part of the school's program...that is, you are simply asking to perform this virtually what you would otherwise do in person.

So I think you have a case.

But at this point, since they have denied your request, your next step would be go to into federal court (since this is federal law that is in question) and ask the court to order the school make this accommodation. For this you need a lawyer.

Consider reaching out to local attorney who can help you prepare a suit...and, at the same time, they can draft a demand letter. This is a letter, on the attorney's letterhead, demanding they make the accommodation and promising suit if they do not comply. Many attorneys will draft one for a nominal fee (typically 1 hour billing rate or less). It may be this scares them into action


Let me know if you have more questions, happy to help if I can








Customer: replied 5 months ago.

Thank you very much for your prompt response. I just have one more question. The university has made it very clear that they will not accommodate this as "Walden’s position has not and won’t change. If you cannot meet the residency requirement, I encourage you to consider a program that does not require it."


 


If they get a demand letter and still don't accommodate it as according to them "We’ve had conversations about this issue with the highest level of governance overseeing higher education in America on behalf of students with similar disabilities to yours," would this be a federal suit that may require them to make the accommodation or a civil suit, assuming they won't comply.

Expert:  P. Simmons replied 5 months ago.
It is federal suit since the law that applies is federal

It is a civil suit, since you sue in federal district court on the civil side.

So it is both a federal suit and a civil suit

Understand that they have decided...so the appeal would be to court.

But you may be surprised at how they change their tune if the receive a letter, from an attorney, promising suit under the ADA...
P. Simmons, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 25407
Experience: 16 yrs. of trial experience
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