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Yale University student sues the school in potential class action for his tuition to be refunded

A Yale University student from Ohio has launched a federal lawsuit against the Ivy League university, demanding the school return tuition payments after deciding to keep classes online in response to the pandemic. 

Jonathan Michel, a soon-to-be third year student from Wooley, Ohio, said the prestigious university ‘effectively breached or terminated the contract’ it had with students ‘who paid for the opportunity to participate fully in the academic life on the Yale campus.’

‘While the effects of the COVID-19 crisis are shared by all individuals and institutions across the country, Defendant has failed to apportion the burden in an equitable manner or consistent with its obligations as an educational institution. Defendant has retained all tuition, fees, and related payments for the Spring 2020 semester, however, all or substantially all classes have been exclusively held online since on or about March 23, 2020,’ the lawsuit, filed in the District Court of New Haven, Connecticut, reads. 

The suit joins many springing up across the country as disgruntled students bite back at their schools, with similar lawsuits brought up against Columbia and Cornell, along with many others. 

Schools have said that they will continue to offer the bulk of their classes online, only allowing a small fraction of students to return to campus. 

Michel, a student in the Davenport College, claimed that he’s lost access to key parts of his educational experience by having to take the classes solely online as ‘remote learning options cannot replace the comprehensive educational experience.’

He cites ‘access to facilities, materials, and faculty, and the opportunity for on campus living, school events, collaborative learning, dialogue, feedback and critique’ as key factors of the in-person experience that he and other students are missing out on.  

The plaintiff is hoping to receive some portion of the funds from the Spring 2020 semester, which cost him $27,750, according to the suit. Academic totals for the entire 2019-20 school year came out to roughly $75,925.  

Yale announced on March 10 that students needed not return to campus after spring break as in-person classes were moving online. It closed the entire campus, soon after.   

‘While this step to close campus and end in-person classes was necessitated by circumstances, it effectively breached or terminated the contract Yale had with each and every student and tuition provider, who paid for the opportunity to participate fully in the academic life on the Yale campus,’ the suit states. 

The suit slams the university for lauding the online classes as an adequate learning experience, asserting Yale was attempting to ‘replace the irreplaceable’ by attempting to ‘pass off this substitute educational experience as the same as or just as good as fully participation in the university’s academic life.’

It highlights how several of the online programs, already offered by the university, are priced at a much lower cost than their in-person counterpart. The suit cited the Women’s Leadership program through the School of Management, which offered a more than $2000 price difference for their online and in-person options. 

Also cited in the suit are key findings from a study that showed that taking online classes ‘reduced student achievement’ by .44 points on a traditional four-point grading scale.

The study also found that online courses reduced the probability of a student remaining enrolled at an institution by over 10 percentage points.  

Lawyers representing Michel are hoping to make the lawsuit a class action case so that they can include other students from the university.

The school believes that the lawsuit is legally and factually baseless, according to Karen Peart, a spokeswoman for Yale. They are prepared to mount a defense against the suit, the Hartford Courant reports.

‘Yale acted to protect the community by moving quickly and effectively to online classes, which allowed students to complete the semester safely,’ Peart said. ‘Yale also provided students with prorated refunds for the room and board that they were unable to use.’

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