Educational Scenarios: What Would You Do?

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You are a teacher in a large lecture course. A student approaches you mid-semester and tells you that she needs accommodations in order to take the midterm that is scheduled for next week. She claims that she is entitled to the accommodations because she has a disability. How do you respond?

RESPONSE: Any student seeking an accommodation needs to have a letter from an MD (medical doctor) which stays confidentially on file with the college support service or disability office. The teacher is entitled to know that the student has a disability, but is not entitled to the details surrounding the disability. The first step then is to ask the student if she has met this requirement. The second step is to confirm this documentation with the support services office. The third step is to discuss and negotiate with the student exactly what type of accommodation would be needed (e.g., extended time, a separate room, a proctored exam, etc.). Additionally, if the last minute timing has created an inconvenience for you, tell the student that knowing about the accommodation earlier would have helped you both.

You are a counselor in the student support office of a small college. Your dean approaches you in August and asks you to run a special orientation group for new students with psychiatric disabilities entering in September. What issues should you consider as you are planning and implementing this group?

RESPONSE: You can run the group as long as it does not have a discriminatory effect on the participants. Specifically, participation in the group cannot be made mandatory, and students must not be required to disclose a disability in order to attend your school. In fact, inquiries about the presence, nature, or severity of disability are illegal.

You are a counselor at a community college, and a student with a psychiatric disability wants you to assist her with accessing classroom accommodations. When you ask for the required letter of disability documentation from her medical doctor, she says she is a Native American and as such, she does believe in or subscribe to any form of traditional medical practice.

RESPONSE: A letter of documentation is required to trigger any type of academic adjustment. The first step would be to explore with the student to verify that the student really is in fact a Native American whose beliefs prohibit the use of any MD. If this is true, it may be possible to have a psychologist write the letter, but accommodations are legally not required to be provided unless there is a letter from a medical doctor on file documenting the disability. It might be useful to explain the purpose and the benefits to her of having such a letter, to help alleviate any fear she may have about acquiring documentation.

As an administrator, two different students approach you with reports that one particular faculty member is refusing to allow any academic adjustments in his classroom, citing his right to freedom. What is your response?

RESPONSE: The right to reasonable accommodations overrides faculty rights to academic freedom; the academic adjustments must be allowed, if they are reasonable, and if the student has a documented disability.

A student who has a documented psychiatric disability is one of thirty in class that meets for three hours, once a week. He says that because one of the side effects of his psychotropic medication is akathesia (extreme restlessness), he needs to pace around the classroom every twenty minutes, to relieve his agitation. What is your response?

RESPONSE: Protecting the rights of one student does not justify violating the rights of several others, which in this case is the right to participate and learn in the classroom. The student with akathesia must negotiate with the teacher to find a way to participate that does not interfere with the learning of the other students. Perhaps he needs more frequent breaks, or needs to arrange to have some of the lecture taped if he cannot attend the entire lecture. The law requires that the student be able to meet the essential requirements of the role; if attending is essential, he may not be able to fulfill the requirements of the student role.


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1997, Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University

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