Student Blames Professor For Failing Twice, Sues To Prove 3rd Time’s The Charm

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shutterstock_204780553Reasonable testing accommodations for students who require them are an important part of the ADA. But determining what falls under the umbrella of unreasonable can be tricky, as Misericordia University has learned the hard way. A student is suing the school after failing a final exam for the second time, claiming the accommodations given to her by the school weren’t good enough.

 The Washington Post reports that Jennifer Burbella is suing the university, several members of the administration and staff, and her professor after she failed a required course twice.

According to the university, Burbella began seeing a school psychologist in 2011 for her issues with concentration, anxiety and depression.

In the Spring of 2014, she failed a final exam that required a passing score of 78 or high to continue in her nursing program.

Burbella chose to retake the class over the summer and the school agreed to make accommodations for her during the exam under the Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. The school gave Burbella a written indication of the accommodations they would allow– more time time to take the exam and a distraction free room. Burbella claims that her professor, Christina Tomkins, also verbally agreed to answer any questions Burbella may have during the exam.

However the distraction free room that the school provided for Burbella was in a separate building from where Tomkins was proctoring the final for the rest of the class. According to Burbella, she asked to me moved to the same building as Tomkins for the exam. Tomkins said no and instead gave Burbella her cell phone number to call if there were any questions.

When Burbella sat for the exam she tried to call her professor several times but for unknown reasons, Tomkins didn’t answer her calls. Not only did Burbella fail the exam a second time, she claims Tomkins’ failure to answer her calls caused her to cry several times during the exam and made the experience even more stressful than the first time she took the exam.

Rather than asking for monetary compensation in her lawsuit, Burbella wants to take the exam for a third time with the accommodations she feels she needs.

Obviously, accommodations should be made for students who quality under the ADA. But as the statute calls for “reasonable accommodations” without further specifications, at some point a school has to make the difficult determination that a student is asking too much. More time to take an exam and a distraction free environment seem reasonable, even if they aren’t the everyday working conditions that Burbella would face were she to achieve her goal of becoming a nurse.

Turning a final exam into a round of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with the professor who made the exam serving as your phone-a-friend starts to wade into the murky waters of the unreasonable. Many universities  forbid students from asking questions during a final exam. If the goal of the ADA accommodations is to level the playing field for those with disabilities, allowing Burbella and not other students to chat with the professor hardly seems fair.