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Guckenberger v. Boston University (Guckenberger I)
United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
974 F. Supp. 106 (1997)
After several years of conflict between the administration and disability-services department, Boston University (BU) (defendant) implemented a new accommodation process for students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Students could request accommodations including computer technology, extra time, and note-takers, but BU eliminated the ability for students in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) to substitute alternate courses for foreign-language and mathematics requirements. To receive accommodations, students had to submit learning-disability testing administered by licensed psychologists or specialists with doctorate degrees. The testing was recognized by BU for three years after the evaluation. If students’ testing expired during their time at BU, the students were required to retest to have accommodations. Learning-disabled students (plaintiffs) filed a class-action suit against BU, claiming that the testing and evaluation requirements and the denial of course substitutions for mathematics and language requirements violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. During the trial, the federal district court determined through expert testimony that students with learning disabilities like dyslexia experienced lifelong difficulties with language learning and that learning disabilities were typically identified through performance gaps on standardized testing by learning-disability specialists, including those with master’s degrees. By contrast, the court found that ADD and ADHD were technically not learning disabilities because they did not compromise a student’s basic academic skills. ADD and ADHD also required clinical evaluation and psychological testing and had high rates of change and remission as students aged. Based on the record, the court found that the retesting and doctorate-evaluator requirements for students with ADD and ADHD were necessary and enforceable. The court then evaluated the same requirements for students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, as well as BU’s categorical bar on course substitutions for mathematics and language courses.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Saris, J.)
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