Justice Department settles with Brown University over mental health leave


The US Department of Justice struck a deal with Brown University after students who took medical leave for mental health reasons were denied readmission, even after their doctors allowed them to return.

A department investigation found Brown broke the law by denying readmission to dozens of undergraduates who sought to return to campus after taking mental health leave between fall 2012 and spring 2017, according to an announcement from the department on Tuesday. Students were reportedly denied readmission even when treatment providers confirmed they were ready to continue their education. Students were also forced to stay on leave for at least two semesters, regardless of recommendations from their doctors.

Department says Brown violated Title III of the U.S. Disability Act, which guarantees people with disabilities equal access to programs and services from public institutions and requires colleges and universities to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. . “Students with disabilities deserve equal opportunity access to ensure they can achieve their educational goals,” said Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the settlement announcement. “The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that colleges and universities do not exclude students because of their disabilities or because they took the time to receive the treatment they need to thrive. “

Under the terms of the settlement, Brown will have to pay $ 684,000 to compensate students who have been refused readmission. The institution will provide ADA training to all faculty and staff involved in decisions regarding students taking or returning from medical leave. It will also need to revise its undergraduate medical leave policies.

If Brown refuses a student’s readmission, he owes the student “a detailed written explanation,” the rule says. Brown is also required to provide the federal government with a report every July and December for three years with documents relating to any decision to deny an undergraduate student’s return from mental health-related leave.

“While we are confident that our previous policies and procedures were in accordance with federal law, we believe today’s settlement offers a more productive resolution than a protracted litigation process that would require financial and time investments that are best reserved for supporting student success on campus, ”Cass Cliatt, senior vice president of communications at Brown, wrote in an email.

Nance Roy, clinical director of the Jed Foundation, an organization focused on young adult mental health, said it was “unusual” for a university to deny a student’s request to return from medical leave if a health professional authorized it.

“It’s usually left to the provider who they see because they are the ones who know them best and know their status, whether it be for a physical or mental health problem,” she said. “Although the college understands what their condition was like when they were in school, they don’t know where they are after they leave and receive treatment.”

She noted, however, that sometimes student complaints about the required length of leave can be complicated by continuing academic or disciplinary probation, even if a student is healthy enough to return.

Richard Myrus, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, thanked Brown for his willingness to make the changes outlined in the regulation.

“Instead of imposing additional barriers on students seeking to return to campus after medical leave, universities must reasonably accommodate students who are treating their mental disorders,” he said in the department’s announcement. “The policies Brown has agreed to implement should serve as a timely reminder to other colleges and universities to ensure that their medical leave policies should not discriminate against students with mental disorders.”

Cliatt noted that the Department of Justice reviewed the medical leave policies in place at Brown prior to the “blanket changes” made by the university in August 2017. Since then, about 98% of students who have applied to return to the campus after sick leave were allowed to return. , she said.

Current university policy requires an individual assessment of each student who wishes to return after medical leave. Any student with a disability who takes an official fixed-term break can request to resume his studies earlier than initially planned or to extend his leave. The policies apply to students taking leave related to mental and physical health.

Policies that require students to take medical leave for a specific period of time still exist, but are less and less common at colleges and universities, Roy said. She expects higher education institutions that still have those requirements to drop them in response to the regulation – or at least add an appeal process.

Different health conditions, physical and mental, require different recovery periods, and it “wouldn’t make sense” to tell a student in physical condition to delay academic progress if a doctor confirmed that everything was okay. she declared. “You really need to have parity between the requirements for students going on physical health leave… versus mental health reasons,” she said. “You should treat any ADA problem the same.”

This is not the first time the Justice Department has reached a settlement with a higher education institution over disputed mental illness leave. The department settled with the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in 2016 after a master’s student reported she was forced to take additional medical leave upon returning from a two weeks voluntary leave to deal with mental health problems. He also reached a settlement in 2015 with Quinnipiac University in Connecticut after a student with depression was placed on compulsory leave.

“While well-intentioned, many schools have work to do on their medical leave policies and their return from medical leave policies, not because they try to be punitive or discriminatory, but often they don’t. just not necessarily thought about all of the caveats they need to think about, “Roy said.” The bottom line is what is in the best interest of the student? “


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