PROVIDENCE — Brown University is changing its policies on undergraduate student leaves of absence after settling a Justice Department finding that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing students who took medical leave for mental health reasons to return to school -- even though they were ready to return to campus life.
The settlement, which was made public Tuesday, protects the rights of students with mental health disabilities to have equal access to Brown’s educational programs, according to the US Attorney’s Office. It’s based on an investigation and compliance review that the Justice Department conducted in response to a student complaint regarding the university’s policies.
The university denied that its previous policies and practices violated federal law, but said settling the matter was “more productive” than protracted litigation.
The agreement required that Brown revise its undergraduate leave policies and practices to be consistent with Title III of the ADA. Title III requires places of public accommodation like colleges and universities to provide individuals with disabilities, including mental health issues, with an equal opportunity to participate in the school’s programs and services.
Under the agreement, Brown also will provide training on Title III of the ADA to all faculty and staff who are responsible for evaluating or making decisions about requests to take or return from a leave of absence.
Brown also must pay $684,000 to the undergraduate students who were harmed.
The settlement comes after the US Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department investigation found that between fall 2012 and spring 2017, dozens of undergraduate students were denied readmission to Brown after taking mental health-related medical leave. The students, who were not identified, met the requirements to return to Brown, and each of the students’ treatment providers reported to the university that the students were ready to resume their studies.
But the investigation found that Brown denied the students’ applications. University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt did not respond to a question about why the university denied readmission to those students.
She said that Brown now reviews requests from students on leave who want to return on a rolling basis, and that since the 2016-17 academic year, more than 98 percent of students who applied to return to campus were approved. Those whose first petition was rejected are told why and may request admission again in future semesters, Cliatt said.
Based on an assessment and direct input from students, Cliatt said the university implemented a “comprehensive revision” of medical leave policies and procedures. The changes, she said, enhanced the ability of students to attend to their health and well-being while away from the rigors of study and established “clear and consistent” guidelines for seeking a return to campus.
Brown has since implemented several additional policy changes that are focused on communication with students during the leave process as well as with clinicians who are treating students during these medical leaves, Cliatt said.