While colleges and universities have the right to refuse to provide academic adjustments that represent a fundamental alteration, the failure to follow proper procedures in reaching such a determination will result in a violation finding even if the actual determination is arguably correct. That is the lesson that one college learned in a recent case.
Gateway Community College, No. 08-16-2199 (February 2017)
Facts: Student enrolled in a Health Unit Coordination certificate program. She requested and was approved to receive the following academic adjustments: extended test time (1.5) and distraction reduced environment. She filed a complaint concerning three issues regarding her accommodation request.
Issue 1: Pursuant to the College’s procedures, students were required to request accommodations for each semester and obtain a faculty notification form (NF) that would list for the instructors the approved accommodation. For the semester in question class began on January 20th, the student made her request on January 21st, the disability services office notified the student that the faculty notification forms were ready on February 1st and the instructors received the forms on February 4th.The student had been provided accommodations the previous semester. Because the student had received accommodations the previous semester, the disability services staff advised her instructors prior to producing the notification forms that the student was entitled to accommodations. Instructor A provided the academic adjustments prior to receipt of the notification form while Instructor B declined to do so.
OCR ruling: It was unreasonable for Instructor B to refuse to provide the approved accommodations to the student prior to receiving the notification form. OCR noted that Instructor B was clearly aware of the approved academic adjustments on January 26th when she expressed objections to providing them for transcription tests.
Issue Two: The student was denied approved test accommodations when she was required to take a quiz in class without the necessary extended time. When the student complained, the instructors offered her the opportunity to retake a revised version of the test the following day.
OCR ruling: The College’s attempt to remediate the failure to properly accommodate the student, was not a legitimate offer to the student. OCR ruled that it was unreasonable to give the student one day to retake the test particularly when the day they insisted she had to take the test was not a day she normally had classes.
Issue Three: Program instructors declared that students could not receive accommodations on any skilled-based tests that measured core competencies, including transcription tests. They stated that the transcription tests simulated what happens on a nursing unit and students were required to ask certain questions of the instructor who was playing the role of a nurse during the tests. The instructors pointed to the fact that the student, was being asked to demonstrate how she would handle orders in a hospital setting within a specific time frame as the justification for denying the approved test accommodations.
OCR ruling: A blanket policy of denying academic adjustments to students without an institutional determination regarding the existence of a fundamental alteration and the continuation of the interactive process to determine whether there exist other possible appropriate academic adjustments as an alternative is a violation of both Section 504 and Title II. OCR noted that the College had a policy and procedures for situations where faculty felt accommodations would alter an essential academic requirement that was not implemented and followed. Further, there was no consideration given to whether there were alternative academic adjustments that could be provided the student.