Letter to the editor: Nov. 8 Editorial

Dear Editors,

In response to your editorial of November 8, 2017: no college wants to receive a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) or any other governmental oversight agency.  We would prefer that a student contact us directly with college-related concerns, creating an immediate opportunity to respond without having to involve a third party.  Gratefully, our students do bring concerns forward regularly, and we act as promptly as possible.

The “Americans with Disabilities Act” is one of many regulations under which all US organizations operate.  This law requires academic institutions to ensure that students with disabilities receive individualized assessments to determine the accommodations most appropriate to their ability to compete equitably.  Accommodations may vary depending on the student’s disability and the requirements of the course.

At Simmons, our Disability Services staff supports over 400 students each year, helping them access myriad accommodations to ensure their success.  While our goal is perfection, that means every faculty and staff member who interacts with a student with a recognized disability is accountable for following the law accurately 100% of the time.  In fact, in this case, two failures occurred:

1) When a student had an approved “extra time” accommodation, Disability Services historically allowed the student to request extensions on papers and projects directly from faculty members.  Faculty then made case-by-case determinations.  The OCR determined that this ad hoc approach was inconsistent with the law, and the College agreed. Thus, moving forward, Disability Services will formally provide the extension accommodation on assignments.

   2) When this student sought an accommodation from a faculty member, the accommodation was provided, but the student was told her grade would be impacted.  From OCR’s perspective, this penalty means that no legally appropriate accommodation was actually made.  The College also agreed with this decision.  Given that Disability Services will approve and provide future extensions for students, individual faculty members will no longer be at risk of making this error.

So, this OCR investigation resulted in two findings with which the College agreed—and which are being addressed with a resolution agreement.  We were in the wrong, and we acknowledged that.

Supporting our students with disabilities has always been—and will continue to be—a priority for Simmons.  In fact, we are currently reviewing our website for compliance with DOE accessibility requirements.  We remain committed to ensuring the participation of all students in our educational programs and co-curricular activities.

Sincerely,

Katie Conboy

Provost & Senior Vice President

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