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Student sues Ohio University after forced leave of absence due to a mental health disability

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comment from Ohio University.

Ohio University student Sarah Letchford is suing the university after being unenrolled due to a mental health disability. 

Letchford, who is currently on military leave, alleged the university is in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits public accommodations from denying or affording an unequal opportunity to an individual or group of individuals with disabilities. 

The suit was filed Nov. 22 and requests OU change its policies to ensure any individual with mental or physical disabilities receives full access to academics, housing and all other facilities, services and activities provided to its students.

In April 2017, Letchford was hospitalized for a brief period due to her mental health disability. Letchford’s mother notified OU about the hospitalization, according to the lawsuit. 

Based on the information, OU decided to withdraw Letchford from the university under a leave of absence. Letchford alleges she was involuntarily withdrawn from the university without any consideration of making a reasonable accommodation for her disability. 

The following semester, Letchford attempted to re-enroll for the Spring Semester by providing OU with a note from a medical provider, though the university declined her request. 

“Ohio University also imposes onerous requirements on students who wish to return to the university; such as signing a release of medical information to permit Ohio University to speak directly with private healthcare providers and committing to costly and time-intensive treatment plans other than those prescribed by their healthcare providers,” according to the lawsuit.  “Ohio University imposes these requirements without acknowledging any rights or protections on the basis of the disability or engaging in an interactive process with the student to discuss appropriate disability-based accommodations.”

Letchford was not provided a full tuition refund for involuntary withdrawals for mental health reasons, according to the lawsuit.  

“Ohio University applies this policy on a blanket basis to exclude students with mental health disabilities who are hospitalized; immediately barring them from the University community, prohibiting them from being present on campus, and removing them from their housing,” according to the lawsuit. 

Ohio University declined to comment until it files its formal response in court, university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said.

“Ohio University is committed to supporting students experiencing a personal medical emergency, whether related to physical or mental health. The University works with such students to identify on-and off-campus resources available to help the students remain in school and be successful in their academic pursuits,“ Leatherwood said in an email. “We do not mandate treatment plans, nor do we have a blanket policy with regard to our approach to students who may be suffering a mental health crisis.” 


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