Slants & trends

Vol. 16 No. 3
March 2006

Does New ADA Lawsuit Put Campuses
Inside This Issue
In No-Win Situation for Suicide Policies?
Liberty U. Accused of Clery Violations .Page 19 Over the past few years, schools have increasingly worried about being sued over a student Man Sues Accuser for $1.85 Million.Page 21 committing suicide. Now, the other side of the issue has emerged, with George Washington University Alcohol Increases Aggression.Page 23 (D.C.) being sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for ousting a student who suffered treatment,” she told CC. “The last thing we want is a policy that discourages students from seeking help So, does this put schools in a no-win situation? [because they] know there are harms if they seek No, say legal experts familiar with the issues. “There are these competing models: (1) we work Schools should focus on the student’s welfare. hard to keep the student in school, which students are “I think there are some things schools can do that willing to do; and (2) we don’t have the resources, would be a better response,” she said. “The focus and liability is great, so we are going to remove should be on the best interests of the student. It them,” said Gary Pavela, judicial affairs director at the should be non-adversarial. It should never be University of Maryland and author of Questions and addressed through the disciplinary process. The Answers on College Student Suicide: A Law and goal is to have a system that maximizes a student’s P licy Perspective from College Administration. opportunity to continue their education and normal relationships and do whatever is possible to help Schools should avoid extremes and find the students get an uninterrupted education.” middle ground. “College administrators should not take counsel of their fears about liability,” Pavela Schools May Provide Protection
told CC. “Their primary focus should be to try to Pavela suggests keeping students in school work with students who might be depressed and may even help them avoid suicide. “Suicide rates even at risk of suicide and keep them in school.” among young adults in college are significantly Best Programs Try Keeping Students in School
lower than young adults not going to college,” he said. “There may be something protective about the He notes the University of Illinois has the na- environment.” For example, he says, firearms are tion’s preeminent program to deal with students ex- the most prevalent way for young men to commit pressing suicidal thoughts. It requires students attend suicide, but most campuses prohibit firearm four mandatory counseling sessions while staying in possession. “So being in school is important.” school. If a student refuses, then disciplinary action can be taken. “There is no indication that that Finally, Pavela notes all the schools concerned enhances your liability,” he said. “When you see all about liability for a student committing suicide the attention to the GW case, the Illinois model not should look at the law, because it favors schools not only ethically makes sense, because we are in the being liable for student suicides. He notes the cases business of helping students stay in school, but it that have caused the change in suicide policies, Schi- eszler v. Ferrum College (Va.) and Shin v. Massa- chusetts Institute of Technology, are minor rulings. Karen Bower, an attorney with the Bazelon “When you talk about the Shin case and the Ferrum Center for Mental Health, represents the student su- case, those are lower courts,” he said. “We have the ing GW. She agrees that trying to help students stay Supreme Court of Iowa, in the Jain [v. Iowa, 617 in school is important. “Policies that impose leave N.W.2d 293] case saying schools are not liable for send a message to the student that the student has students who commit suicide. Yet, for some reason failed, and it discourages the student from seeking treatment and discourages others from seeking Business Publishers, Inc. • 2601 University Blvd. W • 2nd Floor • Silver Spring, MD 20902 • Adam P. Goldstein, Publisher • Leonard A. C. Eiserer, Publisher Emeritus
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Campus Crime
March 2006
Suicide (Cont. from p. 17)
“GW University knew or should have known that this was against the best interests of Nott and that I can’t fathom, people are more inclined to be was likely to exacerbate his condition and cause intimidated by or frightened by or guided by these him great emotional distress,” the suit says. “GW [new, lesser] cases rather than look at the Jain case. University did not act to prevent the possibility of It doesn’t reflect an adequate understanding of the suicide, as its actions actually heightened this risk. way the courts work. One ruling in Massachusetts Instead, GW University sought only to protect itself d esn’t change the landscape of our law.” from adverse publicity or liability should another Contact: Karen Bower, Bazelon Center for suicide have occurred on its property.” Mental Health, (202) 467-5730,; Nott was released from the hospital Nov. 1 and Gary Pavela, University of Maryland, (301) 314- his disciplinary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 3. He asked for an extension, but received no re- sponse. So, instead of risk being expelled, he agreed Student Ejected after Depressive Episode
to voluntarily withdraw from the university. Nott Sues University for ADA Discrimination
was not allowed to return to his dormitory, and had to rely on his friends and family to pack his things. Former student Jordan Nott has sued George Nott was further distraught because he had been Washington University (D.C.) and its hospital, al- receiving all his treatment from people affiliated leging the university violated the Americans with with GW, so the barring order meant he would have Disabilities Act by kicking him out for being de- pressed and the hospital violated his privacy by Over the next few months, Nott received treat- ment for his depression in his home town, and took According to the lawsuit, in April of 2004, classes at a local university and community college. Nott and friends stood outside his dorm room door He applied to other universities and in April 2005, desperately trying to open it as Nott’s roommate transferred to the University of Maryland. In May, committed suicide by jumping out of the window. Nott petitioned GW to have the barring order lifted. This scarred Nott and left him depressed. He re- He described his recovery and included documen- ceived counseling and prescription medication at tation from his treating psychiatrist. Nott said: “All the university’s counseling center. On the night of I ask is that you remove the bar that prevents me Oct. 26, Nott felt weird after taking his Zoloft. from coming to campus so that I may visit from Because he was alone and he knew Zoloft some- time to time the lifelong friends I have made there.” times makes patients more depressed before they The university responded to Nott’s petition, the feel better, around 2 a.m. Oct. 27, he went to GW suit says, with a letter indicating he still had not met hospital for help. Nott was voluntarily admitted af- the school’s demands and saying the barring order ter doctors suggested he stay for evaluation. does “not prevent you from meeting with your GW “Within about 12 hours of his hospital admis- sion, Nott was given a disciplinary letter barring him The suit seeks to bar the university from continu- from his dorm [and all university-owned property],” ing its practices, get Nott’s record cleared, and get un- the suit says. “Within about 36 hours, GW University s ecified compensatory and punitive damages. leveled disciplinary charges against Nott and told him he had to withdraw from the University or face The university said it, “by law,” cannot discuss suspension, expulsion and/or criminal charges, Nott’s case, but offered some general information. merely for seeking help for his depression.” “In the overwhelming majority of cases, the univer- sity has been able to provide appropriate assistance Nott’s Behavior Called Endangering
through existing resources and without the need for Nott was accused of engaging in “endangering separation from the university,” the school said in a behavior,” defined by GW as “behavior of any kind statement. “When a student in our community pre- that imperils or jeopardizes the health or safety of sents a serious threat of suicide, our ultimate goal is any person or persons is prohibited. This includes to find support and treatment to get through the crisis any actions that are endangering to self or others.” point. While some may see the ultimate goal as to stay in school, the university’s foremost concern is The barring and disciplinary hearing notices for the student’s life. We must also be concerned were delivered to Nott while he was in the psychiat- about the protection and safety of the entire commu- ric ward. One note, the suit alleges, was delivered nity, which may be impacted by the student’s words by a university official during non-visiting hours, even though Nott’s mother, Patricia, who had come from Syracuse, N.Y., was told that she could not see Contact: Karen Bower, attorney for Nott, (202) her son because it was not visiting hours. 467-5730,; Tracy Schario, GWU, (202) 994-3566, [email protected]. 2006 Business Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.


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