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Expert Q&A

What do you do when a graduate school refuses to accommodate a student during examinations?

My brother is attending graduate school in pursuit of an MBA. He has a learning disability documented since second grade and within the last year was retested by a psychiatrist and diagnosed as having a learning disability and Attention Deficit Disorder.

The graduate business school that he attends has been fully notified of his disability and accepted him with this understanding. He has received the accommodation of extended time on tests, but he is easily distracted by noise and movement because of his disability and requires a separate room for tests in order to concentrate. The school and Department of Disabilities has refused a separate room for tests.

We are all very worried that his performance is suffering because this school is testing his disability, not his knowledge.

What can we do?

Thank you,

First, it may be useful to have updated psychological testing done, particularly if it hasn’t been done in the last three years. Although the courts and colleges are more demanding about up-to-date testing in relation to AD/HD, it is important to have up-to-date confirmation of the LD also.

Second, it is important for whatever professionals are evaluating him to a) document the existence of the impairment and the basis for the diagnosis, b) the history of the impairment, c) the impact of the impairment upon his day to day functioning (In other words, even if it may seem obvious, what clinical evidence is there to support the need for a quiet environment), d) what specific recommendations are being made for accommodation and why those are justified by the evaluation data, diagnoses, and prior history, and e) wherever possible, a review of the chronic nature of the specific impairment and a history of having received accommodation for that specific problem in that manner.

Typically, the best place to start in trying to resolve these problems is with the university disability services staff. However, if this has already proven unsuccessful, there are a number of steps that can be taken. First, the University likely has a generic grievance procedure that relates to conflicts between students and faculty over issues, whether or not related to disability. Second, the university likely has a Section 504 or ADA plan, which should include the procedure for requesting, documenting the need for, and receiving accommodations, as well as the criteria for evaluating such requests. It should also have an appeal or grievance procedure separate from the normal university grievance process.

Third, if the internal procedures at the university seem to be unsuccessful, it is sometimes worthwhile to seek direct contact with either the President or Chancellor’s Office and/or the University’s legal counsel. Sometimes these problems were not known to those key players and if/when they are involved they may have greater motivation and/or authority to resolve the dispute.

If these procedures are unsuccessful, the student could file a charge with US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights based on the school’s violation of Section 504 or a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, for an alleged violation of the ADA. In general, OCR has stricter timelines for resolving these matters than does the DOJ.

Finally, if there is either an urgent need for action or the above steps were unsuccessful, the student can sue in federal court for violations of the ADA or Section 504. Injunctive relief can be obtained in suits under the ADA, while money damages and injunctive relief can be obtained under Section 504.

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