University Did Not Have Obligation To Proactively Provide Accommodations To Student

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Mar 24, 2023

Luke Nguyen enrolled in the accelerated Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. When he enrolled, Nguyen received a student handbook and reviewed the handbook, which included a paragraph informing him he should contact the student services office to learn how to request reasonable accommodations, if needed. In his first trimester (Summer 2016), Nguyen passed all of the courses, however, in Fall 2016, Nguyen withdrew from his courses after experiencing a severe panic attack. On September 19, 2016, Nguyen was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and ADHD. After these diagnoses, Nguyen’s academic advisor and the director of the accelerated DPT program suggested Nguyen switch to the “flex” DPT program, which took longer to complete but allowed students to take fewer classes each trimester. Following this advice, Nguyen took a leave of absence for the rest of the fall trimester and transitioned to the flex DPT program in the Spring of 2017. At the time, Nguyen requested no other accommodations.

In the Spring, Summer, and Fall trimesters of 2017, Nguyen passed his classes but expressed apprehension about timed exams to three different professors. These professors told Nguyen to practice and study more but did not refer him to the disability services office. Nguyen did not know he could request an accommodation from that office.

In the Spring of 2018, Nguyen passed two courses but had to retake exams in both courses. During this time, he did not request any accommodations from the disability office.  In the Fall of 2018, Nguyen again experienced difficulties passing his classes. Near the end of the trimester, he experienced another panic attack and asked to postpone his final examination in one class until after he saw his doctor. The request was granted, and Nguyen’s doctor told him to explore the process of requesting extra time for his exams going forward. Nguyen failed the final exam and therefore failed the class. The next day Nguyen went to the disability office and asked if he could retake his exam and receive accommodations. His requests to retake the exam were ultimately denied and Nguyen was dismissed from the program.

Nguyen filed a claim against the University, alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for failure to provide reasonable accommodations.  The University argued it had no duty to provide accommodations because Nguyen was not a “qualified individual” within the DPT program because of his academic performance and his history of unprofessional behaviors. The University also argued it had no duty to investigate whether Nguyen needed accommodations because he never requested accommodations before failing the class and did not have a duty to retroactively accommodate Nguyen when he requested accommodations after failing the class. The University noted that the University always had a disability services coordinator and Nguyen failed to use the system for requesting accommodations. Nguyen argued that the University ignored his disabilities by failing to advise him that he was required to go to the disability services office to request accommodations. Nguyen did not know about the office and relied on the University to advise him on the proper course of action. Nguyen argued that the University should have given him extra time as an accommodation.

The Court found that Nguyen never requested any accommodations, even when he expressed concern about exams to his professors. The Court also noted that Nguyen never told his professors that these requests were due to his disabilities. The Court said the University had no obligation to provide accommodations until Nguyen met his burden of identifying an accommodation and demonstrating that the proposed accommodation was reasonable. Nguyen had the student handbook with the information on how to request accommodations if needed. The University did provide Nguyen with the information for the disabilities services officer when Nguyen requested it in December 2018. The Court found that Nguyen had not identified any evidence that the University wrongfully failed to provide reasonable accommodations, and therefore dismissed those claims from the case. The Court allowed Nguyen’s state claims to proceed.

Nguyen v. Univ. of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (M.D. Fla., Mar. 6, 2023) 2023 WL 2374165 (slip opinion).

Note: At the college level, the student has to take initiative in seeking reasonable accommodations. At the elementary and high school levels, there is a greater onus on schools to initiate the reasonable accommodation process and identify potential accommodations for students.

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