A student recently sued Ohio University in federal court alleging it discriminated against her on the basis of a mental health disability after she was improperly and forcefully unenrolled from classes by the administration.
Sarah Letchford, a student working to earn two undergraduate degrees who is currently on military leave, argued that she was forced to forfeit a full year’s worth of college and numerous tuition payments after the university ejected her from school following an April 2017 mental health-related hospitalization. The university doesn’t provide tuition refunds to those who are removed for mental health reasons, according to the lawsuit.
After the university heard from Letchford’s mother of her daughter’s hospitalization, she was involuntarily withdrawn from classes in accordance with OU policy without accommodating for her disability, according to the suit. Under disability laws, OU is a “place of public accommodation” that can’t deny equal opportunity to people with disabilities or prevent them from participating in the university’s services, the lawsuit alleged.
“Ohio University fails to conduct individualized assessments prior to banning such students to consider whether it could provide reasonable accommodations to enable the students to remain on campus, whether the student will have adequate supports while on leave, on whether Ohio University’s actions will further endanger the at-risk student,” according to the suit.
The university wouldn't comment on the lawsuit until it files a formal response in court and said that education privacy laws prevent it from disclosing specific details about Letchford's circumstances.
"Ohio University is committed to supporting students experiencing a personal medical emergency, whether related to physical or mental health," spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said. "The University works with such students to identify on-and off-campus resources available to help the students remain in school and be successful in their academic pursuits."
According to Letchford’s attorney, Michael Fradin, it was never clearly communicated by the university why she was withdrawn from school.
The university didn’t permit Letchford to return for the semester following her hospitalization, even though she allegedly provided the appropriate paperwork needed to enroll back into classes. The lawsuit described the process to return to the university as “onerous,” and alleged that OU “arbitrarily” denied Letchford’s request to come back.
Students attempting to return to school after being withdrawn must complete several tasks before getting cleared for re-admission, including signing a release that permits the university to speak with a health care provider and ensuring that a medical professional completes university paperwork.
“This lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, which means that Sarah is not asking for monetary damages but is asking the Court to order Ohio University to make policy changes,” Fradin said in a statement. “Her goal is to ensure that neither she nor other students have to face similar unnecessary hardships in the future. I am inspired by her decision to bring this suit and hope that we can bring meaningful change.”