UMD to revise disability procedures following discrimination complaint

The University of Maryland entered into an agreement with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on Monday to resolve a disability discrimination complaint and revise current disability procedures, according to a notification letter.

The complaint alleged that a university professor “retaliated” against a student with an approved disabilities accommodation form and failed to accommodate the student, and that this university did not have sufficient procedures to address disability discrimination complaints — all of which violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The agreement with the Education Department requires the university to improve its handling of academic adjustments for students with disabilities and adjust its grievance procedures by Oct. 1 to include information such as notice of where to file a complaint, parties’ right to appeal the complaint finding and “adequate, reliable, and impartial” investigations of complaints.

The student who filed the complaint has dyslexia, a working memory deficiency and ADHD, according to legal documents from Michael Rosofsky, the attorney for the complainant.

The student’s accommodations required an academic adjustment to allow time-and-a-half for assessments this past semester in MATH115: Precalculus, taught by professor Frances Gulick. Gulick received the accommodation form, which states that the student is expected to speak with the professor about specific needs.

Rosofsky said Gulick allotted the student extra time, which is also reflected in the student’s correspondence with Benjamin Perlow, a Disability Support Service counselor.

The student wrote in a Sept. 19 email to Perlow that when the student spoke to Gulick after class about receiving the approved extra time, she advised the student to sit in the back of the lecture hall during quizzes for a few extra minutes.

On Oct. 12, the student sent another email to Perlow stating that sitting in the back of the room was not sufficient to receive extra time and it adversely affected the student’s quiz grades.

Quizzes were always given near the end of class, Gulick said, so students who needed extra time were permitted to finish after the allotted time was up. In addition, she said, each quiz was about five to seven minutes long, so the extra time would be about two-and-a-half to four minutes more.

The student also wrote to Disability Support Service Director Jo Ann Hutchinson about difficulty copying down the quiz questions because of dyslexia. Hutchinson informed Gulick of the student’s complaints, and Gulick then emailed the student to say that she would give the student a copy of the quiz in class with the questions already written on it.

The student’s complaint alleges that Gulick “retaliated” against the student when she required the student to raise a hand in class to be given that written copy. This forced the student to self-identify to a class of more than 200 as a student with a disability, Rosofsky said.

“I reluctantly raised my hand … grabbed the paper and sunk into my seat embarrassed that I was receiving the same typed version of the quiz that she used to write on the board; allowing the entire class to conclude that I had dyslexia,” the student wrote on Nov. 3.

Gulick said she called the student’s name to locate the student in the large lecture hall because the student did not raise a hand before she called the student’s name.

“The student had not told me this, that [the student] had trouble copying the quiz from the board, so I wrote out a copy of the quiz to hand to that student,” Gulick said. “The student did not identify [him- or herself] as the quizzes were being passed out, so I didn’t know.”

Gulick, who has worked at the university for the past 36 years, also said professors receive no training on how to accommodate students with disabilities. The university currently does not have a formal, mandatory training to teach faculty about disability accommodations, said Linda Clement, student affairs vice president.

“If I had a place where I could go to see … ‘Here are some things you might see,’ so at least we know what to expect in the classroom and maybe even how to deal with it,” Gulick said. “I could not have read from the student’s accommodations or anything else what the underlying problem was.”

Clement agreed the university must do more to educate professors about disability accommodations, but she also said it’s not possible to implement a formal training that educates all faculty about every disability they could encounter.

“We have to educate the faculty, certainly,” Clement said, “but I think training everyone on every disability would probably be very challenging.”

Clement signed the agreement outlining the university’s course of action. That includes sending a memorandum by April 15 to all people involved in delivering academic adjustments to students with disabilities, as a reminder to provide the adjustments in a timely manner and refrain from “retaliating” against those asking for an approved adjustment. The university will send a separate memorandum to Gulick by April 1.

Rosofsky said he is not pleased with the requirements and would have preferred for the Office for Civil Rights to issue a thorough investigation of the university’s program.

“It’s a crime for this to be going on in a school, especially with the resources like the University of Maryland,” Rosofsky said. “Just the fact that all they have to do is send a memorandum out … I’m not happy with it at all.”

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