Report #339

DATE: January 8, 2010
PARTIES: Ms. H. S. (the Student) v. UTSC


Hearing Date(s): December 1, 2009

Committee Members:
Kate Hilton, (Chair)
Min Hee Margaret Kim
Dr. Joel Kirsh
Dr. Chris Koenig-Woodyard
Professor Louise Lemieux-Charles

Appearances:

For the Student Appellant:

H.S. (the Student)

For the UTSC:
Professor John Scherk

UTSC – appeal of a denial for an extension of time to write deferred examination – chronic back pain – medical documentation – previous success on examinations written under Accessibility Services – previous registration with UTSC Accessibility Office – separate Accessibility Services registration – Accessibility Services UTSC – Accessibility Services, St. George campus – faxed forms – faxed forms after deadline – missed deadline – UTSC policy – severe episode of back pain – UTSC Medical Certificate – irrelevance of Student’s responsibility of notifying Accessibility Services – adequate medical documentation – compliance with UTSC policy – tri-campus Accessibility Services – poor integration of Accessibility Services offices – appeal allowed

Appeal of a decision denying the Student an extension of time to write deferred examination in two Winter Session courses. The Student had previously experienced serious academic difficulties. The Student’s academic record showed a number of failed courses, numerous petitions for deferred examinations and three separate suspensions for failure to meet the minimum GPA requirement of her program. The Student suffers from severe, chronic back pain, which makes it difficult for her to sit for long periods of time. There was significant medical evidence in the Student’s file to indicate her condition had compromised her academic performance. The Student had registered with UTSC Accessibility Services and wrote some examinations previously with accommodations. The Committee noted it appeared that the Student was more successful on examinations that she wrote under the supervision of Accessibility Services. The Student was scheduled to write two deferred examinations in August 2008. Before the examination dates, the Student realized she was required to register separately with Accessibility Services on the St. George campus to write one of the two deferred examinations with accommodation. The Student made two separate trips to the St. George Accessibility office, one to obtain information and the other to register. On her second visit, the Student arrived and learned it was the last possible day to register with the Accessibility Service Office for the examination period. The staff member on duty advised the Student to take the required forms home and submit them by fax. The Student did so and was later informed by another staff member that the Accessibility Services Office was not prepared to accept forms filed by fax after the deadline and that she was not entitled to accommodation. The Student experienced a severe and medically documented flare-up of her back condition during the deferred examination period and was unable to write her examinations. The Committee referred to UTSC’s policy, holding that it clearly states a student’s petition for an extension of time to rewrite a deferred exam will be considered in a situation where a student has an experienced documented medical emergency. The Committee found, in this case, the Student experienced a severe episode of back pain that was different in degree from the chronic pain she usually managed. The Student sought medical attention and had a doctor complete a UTSC Medical Certificate indicating the Student was incapable of writing her examinations. The Committee found that the Student did everything the UTSC policy required and that she should have been granted an extension to rewrite her deferred examinations. The Committee found the lower bodies’ decisions that the Student was appealing turned on the Student’s responsibility to register with Accessibility Services, the Student’s failure to secure the required accommodations, and her failure to notify Accessibility Services when she realized she was too sick to write their exams. The Committee held that the Student’s responsibility for registering with Accessibility Services or notifying them of an illness was irrelevant to the determination of whether she was entitled to an extension of time. The Committee found the Student was ill on the date of their examinations and provided adequate medical documentation. The Committee held that, by denying the petition on the basis of her failure to register or communicate with Accessibility Services, UTSC was applying a higher standard to the Student than it applies to other UTSC students who do not require Accessibility Services. The Committee found this was neither appropriate nor fair. The Committee expressed concern with the tri-campus procedures involved in the University of Toronto Accessibility Services. The Committee found that, as in the Student’s case, the three campus-specific Accessibility Offices appeared to be poorly integrated and unnecessarily bureaucratic. The Committee found that had it been necessary to consider the question of whether the Student had fulfilled her responsibility to register with Accessibility Services, the Committee would have found the Student had made the best efforts to fulfill her responsibility and should not have been penalized for missing the deadline. Appeal granted.