Report 287

DATE: December 10, 2003
PARTIES: Ms. L. (the “Student”) v. University of Toronto, Faculty of Arts and Science

HEARING DATES: October 8, 2003 and October 29, 2003

Committee Members:
Assistant Dean Jane Kidner, Chair
Professor Pamela Catton
Professor Phil Byer
Professor Gretchen Kerr
Mr. Mike Foderick

Appearances:

For the Student Appellant:
Ms. L. (the “Student”)
Ms. Deirdre Ann Newman, Counsel for the Student

For the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts and Science:
Professor David Cameron, Acting Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Education and Teaching
Ms. Elaine Ishibashi, Associate Registrar
Professor Manuela Scarci, former Undergraduate Coordinator, Department of Italian Studies

Faculty of Arts and Science (“FAS”) – Student appeals FAS Academic Appeals Board decision denying Student’s petition to Committee on Standing requesting late withdrawal without academic penalty from first-year Italian course – Student had diagnosed learning disability and medical conditions causing extreme migraines – Student experienced family medical emergencies and failed to withdraw from course within prescribed deadline – fact that Student entitled to special accommodation does not absolve her of responsibility to comply with University’s rules governing the dropping of courses – students entitled to special accommodation nevertheless have obligation to assess own ability within any particular course and to withdraw prior to deadline if they feel they cannot pass - special and unique family emergencies arose in this case which exacerbated learning disability - appeal allowed

The Student appealed from a decision of the Academic Appeals Board of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Science denying the Student’s petition to the Committee on Standing requesting late withdrawal without academic penalty from a first-year Italian course.

The Student had a learning disability and was registered with the University’s Accessibility Services. The Student also had a number of environmental sensitivities and allergies which could cause extreme migraines. In the summer of 1999, the Student was enrolled in a first-year Italian course. Due to her experiencing migraine headaches, the Student was unable to write the first test in the course. Subsequently, the Student’s mother became ill and was admitted to hospital. The Student’s father was also seriously ill at the time and the Student travelled to be with her parents. As a result, the Student was unable to write the second test in the course. The Student again travelled to visit her parents later that summer and ultimately did not write the final exam. Due to a combination of her medical conditions and that of her parents, the Student decided to drop the course. At this point, however, the deadline to drop the course had passed.

The Academic Appeals Committee (“AAC”) accepted that the Student was under an enormous amount of pressure due to family medical emergencies. The situation was exacerbated by the Student’s learning disability and her environmental sensitivities. The AAC also noted that the University had made great efforts to accommodate the Student during this time, including by scheduling make-up tests. The AAC stated that the mere fact that the Student was entitled to special accommodation did not absolve her of the responsibility to comply with the University’s rules governing the dropping of courses. The Committee found that students entitled to special accommodation nevertheless have an obligation to assess their own ability within any particular course and to withdraw from a course prior to the deadline if they feel they cannot pass. In this particular case, however, the majority of the Panel found that the special and unique family medical emergencies that the Student faced, exacerbated by her learning disability, made it difficult for the Student to assess her situation properly and to withdraw from the course in time.

The AAC allowed the appeal and ordered that the Student be permitted retroactive late withdrawal without academic penalty from the course.