Four months after the federal government found the University of Virginia in violation of laws requiring schools to provide housing to students with disabilities and ordered UVa pay a graduate student more than $2,000 in reimbursed housing costs, the check has arrived.
Weston Allen, a UVa Wise alumnus and a student in UVa’s counselor education program, said he views the late check – which arrived after The Daily Progress first reported Allen’s case on March 25 – as retaliation against him for filing his original complaint.
He also said he’s been “forced” onto a Student Success Plan, been “hassled” by his academic adviser and been told his “personal issues” are a threat to his coursework.
Allen said he also has received an additional payment of $995, not part of the federally mandated reimbursement, that university officials told him was from an “old refund check.” Allen said he does not plan to deposit that check because he does not know what the money is for.
UVa has denied claims that the school or Allen’s graduate program have retaliated against him.
“We … devote significant effort to creating conditions where every student can succeed inside the classroom and outside it and reject any insinuation that University faculty would somehow retaliate against a student in response to a complaint about housing accommodations,” UVa spokesman Brian Coy said in a statement to The Daily Progress on Friday.
Allen has lived with delayed gastric emptying for more than a decade and has a benign brain tumor that causes neurological delays. In May of last year, he filed a discrimination complaint against the university with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, claiming UVa Housing and Residence Life unlawfully denied him the housing accommodations required by his disability for the 2022-2023 academic year. The office ruled in his favor, finding the university in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Section 504 requires that any college or university that receives funding from the Department of Education and provides housing to its students without disabilities must also provide comparable, convenient and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same set cost. The federal law also says that accessible housing should be available in “sufficient quantity and variety” to give disabled students living options to choose from.
Title II prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by public entities, including public education systems and institutions, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance.
On Oct. 31, the Office for Civil Rights ordered the university to make Allen whole with the more than $2,200 that he paid in rent while housing was denied to him; provide Allen with a free parking pass; reinstate any points or deductions that Allen received for class or assignment tardiness through the date the parking pass is provided; and update the university’s Section 504 procedures and faculty training by Nov. 22.
UVa Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis signed a resolution agreeing to the terms on Oct. 28, 2022.
The university requested a deadline extension, citing the Nov. 13 shooting on Grounds that killed three student-athletes. The federal government extended the university’s deadline to Dec. 16.
It failed to meet that deadline.
Allen’s attorney, Robert Shibley, followed up with a letter to UVa on Jan. 30, 2023, arguing the school was “retaliating” against his client over the “embarrassment at being investigated by a federal agency and resentment over the result.”
Shibley acknowledges that several examples he cited in the letter amount to “small ball” complaints.
For instance, Allen “was told that he needed to improve his writing by going to the writing center. When he did exactly this by going the maximum number of times allowed, he was criticized for supposedly going too often.”
But Shibley also put significant emphasis on what he called “Orwellian” Student Success Plans that Allen had been asked to sign.
According to Allen’s account, the director of the counselor education program, Dr. Derick J. Williams, and Allen’s academic adviser, Dr. Blair E. Cholewa, “forced” him to sign a Student Success Plan on Oct. 15, before the Office for Civil Rights ruled on his complaint. The Student Success Plan was a document with statements promising that Allen would submit work on time and not allow his “personal issues” to derail his coursework.
Allen said his program leaders said that he needed the plan because he was still learning to use the program’s academic software applications, Canvas and IRIS, at the time.
On Dec. 15, 2022, after the federal government had sided with Allen in his complaint, Allen said his graduate program “pressured” him to sign another Student Success Plan.
Allen said that Williams and Cholewa, who were both interviewed during the Office for Civil Rights investigation, “berated and taunted” him.
Neither Williams nor Cholewa immediately responded to a request for comment from The Daily Progress. Stephanie Rowley, dean of the School of Education and Human Development, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Associate university counsel Barry Meek responded to Shibley’s email on March 28, making the same point as university spokesman Coy.
“Despite the allegations in your letter, Mr. Allen’s academic challenges were objectively verifiable and well-documented,” Meek told Shibley. “Faculty and staff in the School of Education and Human development worked with Mr. Allen in an effort to remediate those challenges and put him on a path to academic success.”
Meek defended the Student Success Plans.
“The good faith implementation of plans to remediate his academic challenges were not related to or because of Mr. Allen’s disabilities or in retaliation for his prior claim for a housing accommodation (which was managed by an entirely different division of the university),” Meek wrote in the letter to Shibley.
Allen has said he thinks there is nothing “good faith” about the Student Success Plans he was asked to sign, which he was not actively engaged in drafting.
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