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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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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent

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Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”


Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.

The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”

The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”

Use on Other Inmates

The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.

In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.

In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.

He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments. 

The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.

“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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