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Webinar 2: What to do if the evidence suggests that the student is only a threat to himself or herself…

Webinar 2: What to do if the evidence suggests that the student is only a threat to himself or herself

The recent lawsuit filed by a student against Princeton University and a number of administrators challenging his eviction from housing and withdrawal from classes following a suicide attempt raises questions regarding the obligations of postsecondary institutions when a student is guilty of taking action that places only himself at risk. A review of recent OCR rulings reveals the following key compliance imperatives:

1.  If the evidence clearly reflects that the student is not a threat to the health or safety of others then it is inappropriate to label the student as a "direct threat"; take adverse action based on such a label and/or to condition the student's continued participation on reduction of the threat. (See Spring Arbor University, No. 15-10-2098 (OCR 2010)).

2.  If the evidence is mixed or incomplete, it is acceptable to conduct an individualized assessment based upon the best available objective evidence and/or current medical knowledge to determine whether the student represents a direct threat to others. (See Case Western Reserve University, No. 15-11-2024 (OCR 2011) and Farmingdale State College, No. 02-10-2176 (OCR 2011)).

3.  A student who exhibit conduct and behavior requiring staff, administrators, and others to actively monitor and intervene in order for him/her to safely and/or properly participate in the educational program can be judged to be disruptive and as a consequence the institution may determine that he/she is not "qualified". Under such circumstances, it is important that: 

  • There is actual evidence that the conduct or behavior substantially disrupts the institution's ability to effectively offer the educational program and services and/or interferes with the ability of other participants to benefit from the program or services. Examples of such behavior or conduct includes: a student who frequently has seizures during classes; a student who threats suicide and posts suicide notes on his dormitory door; and a student, living in campus housing, who is frequently found wandering disoriented on city streets in the middle of the night.
  • If the disruptive behavior or conduct reflects a manifestation(s) of the student's disability; disability experts must be involved in determining whether there is a reasonable accommodation that would permit the student to appropriately participate in the program. See College of Lake County, No. 05-10-2147 (OCR 2010)) - In that case OCR ruled that rather than demanding that the student cease pacing and running as a condition for participating in the program, administrators should have determined whether there was a way to accommodate the student's need to pace or run that would not result in a fundamental alteration of the nature of the service, program or activity.  

4.  Any adverse action (e.g., withdrawal, suspension, etc.) taken must be legitimate and non-discriminatory. Institutions must be able to demonstrate that the student was:

a)provided clear notice of the  policies, procedures and/or requirements in question; 

b)treated the same as similarly situated nondisabled students; and

c)afforded the same level of due process as others subject to comparable adverse action. 

See Farmingdale State College, No. 02-10-2176 (OCR 2011); University of Michigan, Dearborn, No. 15-10-2105 (OCR 2011); St. Louis Community College, No. 07112019 (OCR 2011).

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