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The Rights of Students With Learning Exceptionalities (Disabilities) and Psychological Conditions in College Discipline Proceedings

Students with certain learning exceptionalities/disabilities or psychological conditions can experience a significantly different landscape in higher education than they did in high school. The challenges only increase when a college or university accuses a student of violating its code of conduct and brings that student before a board for disciplinary proceedings.

A school is required to make accommodations and modify its disciplinary process for students with qualifying disabilities. Unfortunately, many students with qualifying disabilities facing disciplinary charges do not receive the required accommodations and/or modifications to allow them to effectively navigate the conduct code process. The student may then fall victim to unlawful discrimination and, ultimately, a biased disciplinary decision.

The experienced attorneys at Duffy Law have represented many students with disabilities in disciplinary proceedings based on allegations that they violated a college code. We stand up for the rights of students with disabilities to ensure schools do not violate their rights under the law. We are here to help. Contact our office immediately if your school accuses you of misconduct. The earlier in the process you’re aware of your unique rights, the better your chances to secure a fair outcome.

The Rights of College Students With Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating against any person with a disability and further requires that these institutions make reasonable accommodations and academic adjustments for such students. Often, learning disabilities and psychological conditions will qualify as disabilities under the ADA, and students deserve the law’s full protections.

Students with certain qualifying conditions– such as ADD, dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety, depression and other conditions, may face a greater risk of engaging in behavior that violates a school’s code of conduct. These students should disclose their diagnosed disability to their schools upon enrollment and request accommodations and assistance to help them better manage both the academic and social dimensions of their college experience. Many students, however, may not realize they have this option or (understandably) may not want to proactively inform their schools of their situation.

Possible Bias in Disciplinary Proceedings

A student’s disabilities may undermine the student’s credibility in responding to a conduct code violation if not understood and accommodated by the school. Once the process has started, a student who his or her disability to the attention of the school for the first time may be perceived as making an excuse for the behavior that led to the charge. That, in combination the actual behavior, such as inability to focus, remember details under stress or shutting down when pressured, may result in the disciplinary board not considering the student’s testimony credible, reliable, or truthful. This can result in an extremely biased proceeding in which the board or hearing officer makes a decision against the student from the start and denies the student a legitimate chance to defend against the allegations. Students in this position need an attorney who can protect the their rights to fair and unbiased hearings.

Ensuring Appropriate Accommodations During Proceedings

Schools should provide students who have known disabilities with necessary reasonable accommodations during, and appropriate modifications to, those proceedings. Some students may need extra time to read documents or need information explained to them in different ways to ensure they fully understand the allegations and evidence against them. In addition, schools may accommodate students with anxiety disorders by providing different hearing formats that may not involve sitting and speaking in front of rooms full of people. Schools rarely have a person who is trained in understanding how disabilities may impact the behavior at issue in the alleged violation and/or the student’s credibility during a proceeding, but they should.

Furthermore, when a student reveals a disability, administrators, investigators, or the hearing board should consider the disability as an explanation for the violating behavior or as a basis for unusual behavior during an interview or the hearing itself. Unfortunately, schools often wrongfully deny students such accommodations and considerations.

Contact a Connecticut College Code Defense Lawyer for Assistance Today

The highly experienced attorneys at Duffy Law are committed to standing up for the rights of students with disabilities who are facing disciplinary action. We fight hard to make sure schools provide fair and unbiased proceeding for our clients, so please call our office at (203) 946-2000 or contact us online to discuss how we can help you.

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Felice Duffy
Attorney at Duffy Law
Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.
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