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Liberty University student sues school for not refunding fees after campus 'effectively closed'

RICHMOND— A Liberty University student is suing the school for not refunding student fees in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Virginia federal court, claims that Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. downplayed the significance of the public health crisis by saying the Lynchburg college remains open despite a stay-at-home order from Gov. Ralph Northam and the school moving classes online, among other steps.

Liberty has also converted its meals to take-out only, moved church services and convocations online and closed its recreation centers, among other things. Charlottesville-based law firm MichieHamlett Attorneys at Law, which represents the unnamed student, said that put students and their families in “the difficult position” of choosing whether to stay on campus that “has been effectively closed” or to “move home and forfeit the amounts they had paid for room and board and other campus fees.”

“Given the fact that Liberty had moved all of its classes online and suspended campus services and activities, combined with the very real health risks incumbent with remaining in the residential campus environment during the pandemic, not to mention the stay-at-home orders all around the country, including in Virginia, most students chose to leave campus,” the suit reads. “After moving off campus (or no longer coming to campus to attend classes), the students also no longer received or could not otherwise obtain the services and activities from Liberty for which their fees for the semester paid.”

A Liberty spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The News & Advance reported March 27 that Liberty offered a $1,000 credit, which could be used for tuition and room and board costs for students returning in the fall and as a refund to graduating students, to students who chose not to return to campus residence halls. The move came after Falwell Jr. invited students to come back to campus — even though most classes had moved online.

In addition to $23,800 in tuition, Liberty students, like others across the state, this academic year had to pay mandatory fees, such as a $770 activity and student center fee.


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