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Ely
Ely, Attorney
Category: Education Law
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Experience:  Attorney in general practice,
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I am in the state of Missouri. I applied online certificate

Customer Question

I am in the state of Missouri. I applied for an online certificate program from a university in Illinois that advertised its program as being different from others. It would have video lectures, the university's ad said. Finding that the video modality would be an acceptable one for learning for me, I applied for the degree program and was accepted. I chose the flexible meeting option of an online degree over nearby in- person certificate programs, but would never had done so if video lectures had not been advertised as a main feature of the Illinois program. I have a learning disability. I asked for recorded rather than text book materials from the access office at the beginning of course, because my learning disability requires me to learn through other modalities, not just text. During the first class meeting time, the students were asked to exchange videos with each other. There was no video lecture. During another meeting time, the professor was out of town and the TA met with students via chat session. There was no video lecture sent. We had another chat meeting with the professor. Then I had a medical problem which took away my ability to use the drugs that help me compensate for my learning disability, so I withdrew from the course, still not having received a video lecture nor any response to my questions to the professor about assignments. I received a bill for the class, since the university said I was a few days passed the drop /add deadline. I called the university about the bill, saying I had a medical problem and could not handle the course without my medication and without the video component that had been advertised. The university said I should fill out a petition to retroactively drop the course, which I guess is like an annulment of the course. I had to have the professor approve my request. He suggested that I emphasize my medical issue and not the modality issue. Now I am thinking that as the department head, he had a conflict of interest in telling me that. I went through the request process and was denied. I appealed based also on the misrepresentation issue all the way up to the graduate dean and he denied my request to not be billed for the misrepresented course. The university is still billing me. I contacted the head of the access office, who said the dean had never spoken to him about my case. I feel tricked. I needed to take a course each semester to meet a deadline in order to get a new professional certification without having to take an entire new masters degree. I feel I was robbed of the certification opportunity by the university's misrepresentation of their online program as "different" with "video lectures". If I had enrolled locally, I could have benefitted from the in-person auditory and social imput lectures and not fallen behind on my progress toward completion by the deadline. When I contacted the professor at the Illinois university about my problem with the lack of videos that were advertised, he said, "Well some of our classes have video lectures." If the video was optional, why did they call it out as a differentiator for their entire online certificate program? Furthermore, I was registered as a non-text learner in the access office. That information is sent to the professor at the start of the semester. Why did the professor not announce to me that he was changing the lecture modality from what was advertised to chat, which is text? A university is required by federal law to give reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. How can they advertise an accommodation when you pay for a class and then take it away without notice after you have committed to the class? If I had enrolled in Gallaudette University because it was a deaf culture school and then they switched it to being a lip-reading aural/ oral school three weeks into the semester, it would be wrong of them to charge a person for enrollment. If a course is advertised as having a translator and it changes to being in English-only after you start it, you should not have to pay for it. I am afraid that the university tricked me in some way by asking me to go through their retroactive withdrawal request process. Who should I go to for help? Someone in Missouri or someone in Illinois? This is important to me also because my son with learning disabilities is entering college. I don't want him to encounter this sort of bait and switch for any required courses for his degree. By the way, I am a licensed speech pathologist who works with kids with learning disabilities. I know what I am talking about. The university teaches its own special education majors about the importance of using alternate learning modalities. I told the dean that I did not wish to pay the university for video lectures that I did not receive. I told the bursar's office that I should not have to pay for lectures that I did not receive. They are still billing me and threatening to ding my credit or garnish my money.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Education Law
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I meant to say that in-person lectures give audtiory and social input, not imput.
Expert:  Dwayne B. replied 1 year ago.

Hello and thank you for contacting us. This is Dwayne B. and I’m an expert here and looking forward to assisting you today. If at any point any of my answers aren’t clear please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Also, I can only answer the questions you specifically ask and based on the facts that you give so please be sure that you ask the questions you want to ask and provide all necessary facts.

The majority of the questions in the extensive fact pattern appear to be rhetorical but let me answer the ones that are direct questions and then you can ask follow ups as necessary.

I don't think any agency is going to help you on this so you are almost certainly going to have to file a lawsuit. While there is a potential of having a judge in MO allow you to proceed with the case there, the other side is going to object and it would surprise me greatly if you didn't agree to IL being the proper venue in some of the paperwork (either physical or online) you signed or agreed to accept. IL courts definitely have venue and jurisdiction. If you want to consider filing in MO then you need to get a copy of all of the paperwork, screen shots, etc, and take them to a local lawyer and let them examine the documents.

Your whole case is going to hinge on exactly what was advertised, the exact wording, and then the agreements, click throughs, etc. This is because you are claiming that you were promised one thing and the school delivered something else. The good part about that is any time there is a disagreement about what something in a contract means, the contract terms are ambiguous, or the contract is subject to more than one interpretation then the court is obligated to accept a reasonable interpretation given by the person who did not draft the contract/agreements even if the drafting party offers a more reasonable interpretation. This is known as the Scrivener's Rule.

Expert:  Dwayne B. replied 1 year ago.

Also, since it is, in essence, a breach of contract case, then you can recover your attorney's fees as well as your other damages.

However, one thing to be aware of is that if this is a public school, affiliated with the state of Illinois, then you are going to be required to send them a notice of claim letter which usually has a very short window. You will need to discuss this with the local lawyer since we aren't actually allowed to tell you what your time limit is on sending that letter and it can vary based on the facts of your case.

Please ask your follow ups in this thread.