Montana student sues school over graduation requirements after flunking math

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, November 14, 2013

A Montana art student who flunked and dropped two required math courses is now suing to force the school to allow her to substitute two non-math courses so she can graduate.

Senior Hannah Valdez, who attends Rocky Mountain College in Billings, claimed in her lawsuit that her disabilities have prevented her from passing the basic math courses, and that the school didn’t do enough to accommodate her disabilities. Valdez’s lawyer, Donald Harris, said Tuesday that she suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyscalculia, a mathematics learning disease.

“They don’t understand her disability,” Harris said of Rocky Mountain officials, as reported by The Associated Press. “The stress and anxiety that Hanna feels when she is trying to be successful with math classes affects her other studies, as well.”

The lawsuit also notes that Valdez was admitted into the private liberal arts university despite the fact that her SAT score for math placed her in the bottom 5 percent of all students. According to The Daily Caller, it’s unclear whether Valdez understood the school’s graduation requirements before enrolling.

Valdez had attempted to pass two math courses before requesting to substitute the classes in April 2012, which the college denied. According to Harris, Rocky Mountain University allows a course waiver or substitution in circumstances such as unavoidable conflicts or course cancellations, and is a common practice at other universities in the United States.

In the lawsuit, which was originally filed in state court but then transferred to U.S. District Court on November 4, Valdez claims negligence by the school and discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The suit notes that Valdez has incurred substantial debt as a result of her studies and will seek damages if the school denies her the chance to graduate because of her disabilities.

Her lawyer also questions the need for Valdez to pass the math courses, considering she plans on becoming a graphic artist post-graduation.

“Nobody will say these general education classes are essential to a degree in art,” Harris said.

Rocky Mountain’s interim academic vice president, Barbara Vail, told the AP that Valdez is a valued student and that the school takes its obligations to provide access for students with disabilities very seriously. Vail added that the school is doing everything it can to help her graduate.

The school’s attorney, W. Anderson Forsythe, plans to file a request to delay the suit while they work out a solution in which Valdez would be tutored by an associate math professor trained in teaching students with disabilities. Waving the requirements, however, is not an option the school is willing to consider at this time.

“We are hoping to try and work with her through Professor [Robyn] Cummins to help her meet her requirements,” Vail said. ”We’re very serious that a degree from Rocky means something.”

In his injunction filing Monday, Forsythe wrote that the school has offered Valdez extended time on exams, permission to record lectures, free tutoring and note taking and the ability to substitute the second of the two required math classes with a course on logic.

Valdez’s lawsuit is similar to one filed by a graduate of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. earlier this year. Megan Thode unsuccessfully sued the school for $1.3 million because she was unhappy that the school gave her a C+ grade in 2009. Her lawyer, Richard J. Orloski, is now working to get the judge in the case to reverse the verdict or grant her a new trial, according to The Allentown Morning Call.

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