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Students Sue Colleges for Refunds Amid Pandemic

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  • A student at Liberty University has filed a complaint against the school, claiming that students deserve a refund as they learn remotely during the pandemic.
  • The student argues that the school’s assertion that campus is open is just an excuse so it won’t have to give money back, despite only very limited parts of being open or running.
  • The student also criticized the school’s slow response to the pandemic, as well as the school’s president for calling global responses an overreaction.
  • Students at Drexel University and University of Miami are also suing their schools, claiming that they are not getting the educational experience they were promised and paid for. 

Liberty University Complaint

Students at Liberty, Drexel and the University of Miami are demanding refunds on their tuition and boarding as they spend the rest of their semester learning remotely. 

Like many other schools across the country, all classes at Liberty University have moved online. While students receive instruction virtually, the school’s dorms remain open for students in need of housing, with dining hall options limited to takeaway. The vast majority of students have opted to finish the semester from home. Those remaining in the dorms are mainly international students with nowhere else to go. 

Despite major campus functions, like student organizations, sports, and recreation centers shutting down, the school still touts an “open campus.” A complaint filed on Tuesday by a student identified as “Student A” alleges that the school is making this claim in an effort to not be held liable for refunds. 

“The University’s statement that is open is an illusion being put forth to try to keep money that should be returned to students and their families,” Student A claims.

Liberty University is a Virginia-based private evangelical school known for its conservative Christian ideology and its president, vocal Trump-ally Jerry Falwell Jr. In a normal academic year, Liberty hosts 15,000 students on its campus and nearly another 100,000 online. 

“Despite ending on-campus services and activities for the rest of the semester and leaving students with no safe and practical choice other than moving out of their on-campus housing and discontinuing coming to Liberty’s campus, Liberty has refused to refund to students and their families the unused portions of the fees that they each paid to cover the costs of certain on-campus services and activities, which are no longer available to students,”  the complaint continues.

The complaint also states that at one point, when the school was telling students they were allowed to remain on campus, it encouraged students to consider staying home. While the school later claimed this was not meant to be a recommendation, students felt they were being told campus was unsafe and that the school did not want students to take them up on their offer. 

Liberty’s Response to COVID-19

According to the complaint, Liberty offered on-campus students a $1,000 credit to be applied to their Fall 2020 charges. The complaint called this a “mere fraction of what Liberty actually owes.” Dining plans at the school can run as high as $4,450, and housing as high as $8,000.

Student A also states that this credit will not do any good for students not returning to school for the fall semester, or students who do not live in residence halls. The deadline to receive this credit has also long passed. The decision was due March 28.

In addition to being frustrated with Liberty’s failure to take financial responsibility during the pandemic, Student A also criticized the school’s “glacially slow” response to the virus. The complaint notes that on March 13, President Falwell was still calling the global response an overreaction and comparing COVID-19 to the flu. 

Two days after this, he insulted a concerned parent on Twitter. That parent was afraid that once students inevitably return home after the semester, they could give the virus to their grandparents.

“Nope, then they’ll go off to summer jobs or internships dummy,” Falwell wrote back.

The school received more criticism in March after telling students they could return to campus after spring break. Over 1,000 did so, which soon led to several students testing positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Still, Liberty claims that they have not mishandled finances amid the virus. They told BuzzFeed News that the allegations in the complaint are “without legal merit.”

They also said the school has “taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved.”

Lawsuits at Other Schools

Liberty is not the only school getting slapped with legal action. Students at Drexel University and the University of Miami, who are also finishing their semesters online, have filed lawsuits demanding some of their money be refunded. Tuition alone at both of those schools is over $50,000. When you factor in room and board, the total is around $70,000.

Law360 obtained the suits against the schools, which were both filed out of the same firm in South Carolina on April 10. 

“Although [the universities are] still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes, plaintiff and members of the proposed [classes] have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning,” both suits say. “Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished.”

The students at Drexel and Miami believe that their tuition covers far more than just their academic instruction. They claim it extends towards computer labs, libraries, student unions and extra-curricular activities, art, networking opportunities and other campus resources, all of which are not available as students are forced to learn remotely.

It is unclear if students have a strong enough case for this to be true. While some experts believe that these tools are all promised and essential to higher education, others think the argument will not legally hold up.

“The students are going to have an uphill battle unless a school has actually shut down and they’re not getting credit,  James Keller, the co-chair of the higher-education practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Philadelphia told the Wall Street Journal.

“The basic contractual agreement is, I pay tuition, and if I satisfy academic requirements, you give me credit. That’s still happening.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News) (NBC News)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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Derek Chauvin Qualifies for Longer Sentence Over George Floyd’s Murder, Judge Rules

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  • A judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin ruled Wednesday that there were enough aggravating factors in the former officer’s murder of George Floyd that could qualify him for a longer prison sentence.
  • While Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges he faced, Minnesota state law only allows him to receive prison time for the most serious charge of second-degree homicide, which has a max sentence of 40 years but a recommended sentence of 12.5 years for people with no criminal history.
  • The judge ultimately agreed that Chauvin qualifies for longer sentencing because prosecutors had proven that he abused his power as a police officer, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
  • Chauvin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

Judge Cahill Rules on Aggravating Factors

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, thus qualifying him for a longer sentence.

While the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he was facing, Minnesota law says that he will only face sentencing for the most serious charge, which in this case is second-degree murder.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, but state sentencing guidelines recommend 12 and a half years for someone with no criminal history. Prosecutors asked Judge Cahill for what’s called an “upward sentencing departure,” arguing that there were five factors that should open Chauvin up to a maximum sentence.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Cahill wrote that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt four of those five factors.

In his decision, Cahill agreed with the prosecutor’s claim that Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority” as a police officer and that he “knew from his training and experience” that the neck restraint he used Floyd in “danger of positional asphyxia.” 

Cahill also supported the argument that the former officer had been “particularly cruel” to Floyd, who he wrote “was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge he was likely to die,” adding that Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.”

The third and fourth aggravating factors that the judge sided with prosecutors on were that Chauvin had committed the crime as part of a group of three or more people and that he perpetrated that crime in front of children.

Notably, Cahill did reject the fifth aggravating factor brought by prosecutors, who argued Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed and held facedown on the street. The judge said that prosecutors did not prove that argument, writing that Floyd had been able to resist arrest before he was put on the ground.

Additional Charges

The ruling comes just a few days after Chauvin and the three other officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges by a grand jury.

Chauvin was also indicted on a second, separate federal charge related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017, during which he allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

According to reports, if he is convicted, he would likely serve the federal sentence at the same time as his state one. However, the federal charges may impact the pending August trial of the three other officers, who have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Separately, last week, Chauvin’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging misconduct by the judge, prosecutors, and jurors, signaling additional continued litigation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Teens Attack and Rob 80-Year-Old Asian Man in Northern California

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  • Viral surveillance footage shows an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area being assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police say are teenagers.
  • Police believe the suspects are as young as 16, and at one point, one can be heard in the video giggling from the getaway car as the victim cries for help. 
  • The news comes after the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data showing that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March.

Suspect Laughs at Victim During Attack

Surveillance video going viral on social media captured an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area getting assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police believe are teenagers.

The full video is extremely distressing. It shows the man getting knocked to the ground, trying to fight off his attackers as he cries for help. To make matters worse, at one point, high-pitched giggles can be heard coming from another teen in the background. That person appears to be inside a getaway car nearby.

The victim was robbed of a watch and sustained minor injuries. Police have also said that a vehicle similar to the one used in this case was spotted at a strong-armed robbery in a nearby San Leandro area less than two hours later, where another victim was robbed of her purse.

Police believe the suspects are as young as 16.

Surge of Crimes Against Asians in U.S.

This is just the latest violent attack against an Asian person making headlines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, reports emerged regarding two Asian women who were attacked with a hammer in Times Square by someone demanding they remove their masks. Two other Asian women were recently stabbed while waiting for the bus in downtown San Francisco.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data Thursday saying that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March — with Chinese people as victims in 44% of these acts.

Vancouver Sees Massive Influx of Anti-Asian Hate

While anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in the U.S., the situation may be worse in Canada, specifically in Vancouver. Around 42% of people in Vancouver are of Asian descent and at least 25% speak Chinese — making it the most heavily Asian city in North America.

Still, it witnessed a 717% year-over-year surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Bloomberg even dubbed it the Anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, saying more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in the city of 700,000 people last year than in the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

That’s part of why people all across the city are participating in more organized action to speak out against anti-Asian hate. For instance, several rallies took place in Vancouver Monday to mark the National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism.

See what others are saying: (ABC 7) (Bloomberg) (Forbes)

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