Education

UVM students file class-action suit for reimbursement after school goes online

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UVM intersection
Pre-coronavirus hundreds of students crossed Main Street to access the Central Campus every day. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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Two University of Vermont students have sued the university. They say the college should provide reimbursements for services not offered to students after remote learning requirements were put in place to address the coronavirus pandemic. 

Students Nilay Patel and Rachel Gladstone filed the class-action suit Tuesday in federal court, demanding “remediation of the defendant’s refusal to provide restitution for tuition, housing, meals, fees and other applicable costs” after UVM went remote in March. 

The suit, filed by New Hampshire-based Ice Legal, requests the court order UVM to pay students funds the university “wrongly obtained for on-campus tuition, on-campus housing, meals, and fees.”

The university announced in March that it would be going remote for the rest of the semester in response to the coronavirus, and a student petition pushed for refunds amid the closure of campus. 

Later in March, the university announced it would grant students a $1,000 housing credit and a prorated credit for meal plans. 

The university charged an average of $12,946 for room and board for this academic year, according to its website. Fees were $2,410, in-state tuition was $16,392, and out-of-state tuition was $41,280.

UVM spokesperson Enrique Corredera said that the university does not comment on pending litigation. 

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Ice Legal did not respond to a request for comment.  

The lawsuit asks the university to refund partial tuition to cover the difference between online education and live, in-person education in the classroom, citing studies that show students do not perform as well in online settings. 

“Plaintiffs and Class members who paid tuition for live in-person instruction in brick and mortar classrooms were forced to use online distance platforms for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester did not get the full benefit of what they bargained for when they paid tuition for the Spring 2020 semester,” the suit states.

It also asks for a refund on prorated on-campus costs, pro-rated meal costs and other fees, including parking and comprehensive fees.  

“As a result of the partial closure of the Defendant’s facility, Defendant has not delivered the services for which the Plaintiffs and the Putative Class contracted and paid,” the lawsuit states. “Nor has the Defendant fully refunded the money for these undelivered services.” 

The suit calls the housing credit offered by the university “woefully insufficient” and says the meal credit also did not equate to an adequate refund. 

Patel is an international student from the United Kingdom, and Gladstone is from New York. 

The suit alleges that the university breached contracts with its students and was unjustly enriched by students. 

The university’s housing and meal plan contract states that the university has the right to terminate the contract “in the event of calamity or catastrophe that would make continued operation of student housing infeasible, such as an influenza pandemic.” 

But the lawsuit argues that the right to suspend “performances under the contract does not equate to the right to keep unused fees.” 

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Aidan Quigley

About Aidan

Aidan Quigley is VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter. He most recently was a business intern at the Dallas Morning News and has also interned for Newsweek, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor and the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is a 2018 graduate of Ithaca College, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, the student newspaper. He is a native of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Email: [email protected]

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