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Department of Education Seal

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

1100 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, NW, ROOM 316

P.O. BOX 14620

WASHINGTON, DC 20044-4620

www.ed.gov/offices/ocr 

OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OFFICE

SOUTHERN DIVISION

District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina

June 29, 2000

Dr. Marye Anne Fox

Chancellor

North Carolina State University

Office of the President

A Holladay Hall

Campus Box 7001

Raleigh, North Carolina 27695

RE: OCR Case Nos. 11-98-2046 (XXXXXXXX), 11-99-2055 (XXXXXXXX) and 11-99-2142 (XXXXXXXX)

Dear Chancellor Fox:

The District of Columbia Office, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), U.S. Department of Education (the Department) has completed its investigation of the above-referenced complaints filed with OCR against North Carolina State University (University) in the above-referenced cases. In these three cases, the complainants allege that the University discriminated in its programs and activities against them and other students with visual disabilities.

OCR is responsible for enforcing certain Federal civil rights statutes and regulations, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and its implementing regulation, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department. OCR also has jurisdiction as a designated agency under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) and its implementing regulation, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by public entities. The University receives Federal financial assistance from the Department, is a public entity, and is therefore subject to the provisions of Section 504, Title II, and their implementing regulations. Accordingly, OCR has jurisdiction over these complaints.

In pursuing a resolution of these complaints, we: conducted two on-site reviews at the University; interviewed the complainants, other students with and without visual disabilities, and University officials; and reviewed evidence submitted by the complainants and the University. The legal standards governing our consideration of the allegations in these complaints are as follows:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .

29 USC § 794. The Section 504 regulation includes the following more specific prohibitions.

A recipient, in providing any aid, benefit, or service, may not, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements, on the basis of [disability]:

(i) Deny a qualified [individual with a disability] the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the aid, benefit, or service;

(ii) Afford a qualified [individual with a disability] an opportunity to participate in or benefit from the aid, benefit, or service that is not equal to that afforded others;

(iii) Provide a qualified [individual with a disability] with an aid, benefit, or service that is not as effective as that provided to others;

. . . .

(vii) Otherwise limit a qualified [individual with a disability] in the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by others receiving an aid, benefit, or service.

34 CFR § 104.4(b)(1).

The Section 504 regulation also includes the following broad nondiscrimination provision for postsecondary education:

No qualified [student with a disability] shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any academic, research, occupational training, housing, health insurance, counseling, financial aid, physical education, athletics, recreation, transportation, other extracurricular, or other postsecondary education program or activity to which this subpart applies.

34 CFR § 104.43(b)(1).

Title II and the Title II regulation include prohibitions that are similar to those of Section 504.

A number of the allegations in these cases have been resolved by commitments the University has made in the enclosed settlement agreement (agreement). Included in this agreement are commitments pursuant to which the University will:

¨ provide students with disabilities with access to University notices, including notices of academic requirements, course schedules and syllabi, that is comparable to that provided to other students;

¨ implement an OCR-approved plan pursuant to which the University will, through the use of assistive technology and other means, ensure that students with disabilities have access to computer hardware and software that is comparable to that provided to other University students;

¨ provide students with visual disabilities with access to emergency services that is comparable to that provided to other students;

¨ implement and provide notice of revised grievance procedures that identify the categories of civil rights – including those of individuals with disabilities -- that are protected under federal law.

We commend the University for its: efforts to improve its programs and activities to make them more accessible to students with visual disabilities; cooperation in the investigations of these cases and negotiation of the agreement; and willingness to make the commitments in the agreement. We will monitor the University’s implementation of the agreement to ensure compliance.

Our findings and conclusions for each of these three cases appear below.

1. OCR Case No. 11-98-2046 (XXXXXXXX)

In this case, the complainant alleged that the University discriminated against him based on his disability when it failed to provide him with: 1) access to library services that was as effective as that provided to students without disabilities; 2) accessible notices and bulletin board postings for students with visual disabilities; 3) proper dormitory accommodations; 4) adequate transportation services; 5) comparable computer access (e.g., Internet services); 6) emergency warning signals and communication devices (e.g., accessible emergency telephones) for persons with visual disabilities; 7) accessible cafeteria services; 8) a course syllabus in an accessible format; and also 9) failed to respond to his grievances.

We conclude that allegations two (notices), three (which is primarily directed to the inadequacy of dormitory notices), five (computer resources), six (emergency measures), eight (course syllabus), and nine (grievances) are resolved by the commitments the University has made in the agreement.

As discussed below, we also conclude that, with respect to allegations one (library services), four (transportation services) and seven (cafeteria services), there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II.

Applying the above legal standards, our conclusions regarding allegations one, three, four, seven and eight are as follows.

Allegation One – The University failed to provide the complainant with access to library services that was comparable to that provided to students without disabilities.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University is obligated to provide library services to students with disabilities that are equal to and as effective as those provided to other students.

Evidence indicates that the complainant did initially encounter difficulties accessing particular voluminous class materials that were on reserve at the library. However, after making arrangements with the University to have these materials copied in advance (so that he could scan and access them through computer text-to-speech software), he no longer experienced these difficulties. The University also provided a reader to assist him in accessing materials on reserve.

In light of the University’s provision of these auxiliary aids and services, we find that there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

Allegation Four – The University failed to provide the complainant with adequate transportation services.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University is obligated to provide transportation services to students with disabilities that are equal to and as effective as those provided to other students.

During the 1997/98 academic year, the University provided transportation services through its Wolfline buses. The evidence indicates that these buses were as accessible to the complainant as they were to other students during this academic year. Moreover, the University provided additional transportation services during this year to students with disabilities through its Disability Services for Students vans.

We note that, in addition to transportation services, the complainant had available to him mobility training services to assist him in learning how to navigate the campus, including instruction on how to find his way to and from the points at which transportation services were provided.

Consequently, we find that there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

Allegation Seven – The University failed to provide the complainant with accessible cafeteria services.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University may not subject the complainant to discrimination on the basis of disability in its cafeteria services or other programs or activities.

The evidence indicates that this allegation is directed to the adequacy of transportation services that were provided to and from the cafeteria facility rather than the accessibility of the cafeteria services themselves. Consequently, for the reasons stated in our discussion of allegation four (transportation services), we find that there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

As a result of the agreement, we are closing our investigation of allegations two (notices), three (inadequacy of dormitory notices), five (computer resources), six (emergency measures), eight (course syllabus), and nine (grievances), effective the date of this letter. Additionally, based on the above findings concerning allegations one (library services) four (transportation services) and seven (cafeteria services), we are also closing our investigation of these allegations effective the date of this letter.

 

2. OCR Case No. 11-99-2055 (XXXXXXXX)

In this case, the complainant alleged that the University discriminated against her and others on the basis of disability when it: 1) failed to provide auxiliary aids and services to meet the needs of visually impaired students; 2) failed to provide her with auxiliary aids and services to complete her coursework and provide books in an alternative format; 3) failed to provide access to coursework (which is not placed on a web-site usable with text-to-speech technology) and to provide training to staff on adaptive technology and computer skills to assist her with her coursework; 4) failed to implement policies and procedures that address many of the issues that confront students with visual disabilities in their classes and dormitories; and 5) adhered to an in-state tuition policy that has an adverse impact on students with visual disabilities.

We conclude that allegations one (auxiliary aids generally) and three (access to coursework) are resolved by the commitments the University has made in the agreement.

As discussed below, we also conclude that, with respect to allegation two (failure to provide specific auxiliary aids and services): to the extent it relates solely to the complainant’s coursework while attending the University, it is moot, as she no longer attends the University; and to the extent it is evidence of the University’s general failure to provide accessible materials, it is resolved by the commitments the University has made in the agreement. Finally, with respect to allegations four (failure to implement policies and procedures for students with visual disabilities) and five (discriminatory in-state tuition policy), there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II.

Allegation Two – The University failed to provide the complainant with auxiliary aids and services to complete her coursework and provide books in an alternative format.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University must provide the complainant with coursework in a format that is as accessible to her as the coursework provided to other students.

We understand that the complainant no longer attends the University and that she does not intend to return to the University. In light of these facts, we conclude that this allegation is moot to the extent that it relates solely to the coursework that she took while she attended the University. We also conclude that, to the extent that this allegation can be read to include any general failure of the University to provide accessible course materials to students with visual disabilities, it is, like allegation one (general failure of the University to provide auxiliary aids), resolved by the commitments the University has made in the agreement. As stated above, we will monitor the University’s implementation of the agreement to ensure that it fully complies with this and the other commitments it has made in the agreement.

Allegation Four – The University failed to implement policies and procedures that address many of the issues that confront students with visual disabilities in their classes and dormitories.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University may not subject students with visual disabilities to discrimination in its programs or activities.

While broadly stated, the focus of this allegation is an incident involving the purported lack of access that the University provided to the complainant and her seeing eye dog to a chemistry lab class. Evidence indicates that the University did express concerns about the health and safety of the complainant’s seeing eye dog around the chemicals in the laboratory, and that it sent an "assistant" to attend a lab session with her to ensure her and her dog’s safety, e.g., to determine the safest location in the lab class for her and her dog and to review emergency lab procedures. This evidence does not establish that the University denied or limited the complainant’s access to the lab class by taking these precautions.

Consequently, there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

Allegation Five – The University adhered to an in-state tuition policy that has an adverse impact on students with visual disabilities.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University may not subject students with visual disabilities to discrimination in its financial aid program.

The complainant has alleged that the in-state tuition policy is discriminatory because it distinguishes between those who live on campus and those who live off campus and that, presumably, this distinction has a disparate impact on students with visual disabilities. Based on the evidence in the file, we find that the tuition policies of the State of North Carolina, to which the University adheres, do not distinguish between students who live on campus and those who do not. We also find that these policies do not, either on their face or through any disparate impact, discriminate against students with visual disabilities,

Consequently, there is insufficient evidence that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

As a result of the agreement, we are closing our investigation of allegations one (auxiliary aids generally) and three (access to coursework) effective the date of this letter. Additionally, based on the above findings concerning allegations two (failure to provide specific auxiliary aids and services, which we are also closing in part due to its resolution in the agreement), four (transportation services), and five (discriminatory in-state tuition policy), we are also closing our investigation of these allegations effective the date of this letter.

 

3. OCR Case No. 11-99-2142 (XXXXXXXX)

In this case, the complainant alleged that the University discriminated against him and others on the basis of disability by: 1) creating a hostile environment; 2) failing to provide equal access to its program due to inaccessible print and computer-based information and unavailability of technical assistance staff; and 3) failing to notify the complainant of the grievance procedures for appealing a grade.

We conclude that allegation two (equal access) is resolved by the commitments the University has made in the agreement. As discussed below, we also conclude that, with respect to allegations one (hostile environment) and three (failure to provide notification of grievance procedures), there is insufficient evidence to find that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II.

Allegation One – The University created a hostile environment.

Under the Section 504 and Title II standards identified above, the University may not subject the complainant to discrimination on the basis of disability in any of its programs or activities.

The complainant has stated that a faculty member in his program has called him "stupid and ignorant," and that this is part of what constitutes a hostile environment at the University. We have been unable to obtain details from the complainant concerning who made these statements and when, and what other statements or incidents allegedly created a hostile environment at the University. Consequently, we find that there is insufficient evidence to find that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

Allegation Three – The University failed to notify the complainant of its grievance procedures for appealing a grade.

Section 504 and Title II require that the University adopt adequate grievance procedures that are prompt and equitable and provide a sufficient general notice that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability.

Evidence indicates that the University has, during the relevant time periods, posted notices of nondiscrimination and its grievance procedures on its web site and in the DSS student handbook in a format that was accessible to students with visual disabilities. We note here that a recipient is not required to provide individuals with notice beyond these general postings.

Consequently, we conclude that there is insufficient evidence to find that the University is in violation of Section 504 or Title II with respect to this allegation.

As a result of the agreement, we are closing our investigation of allegation two (equal access) effective the date of this letter. Additionally, based on the above findings concerning allegations one (hostile environment) and three (failure to provide notification of grievance procedures), we are also closing our investigation of these allegations effective the date of this letter.

 

We have informed the complainants that no person is permitted to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by the laws OCR enforces. If any individual is so treated because of filing a complaint or participating in any aspect of OCR case resolution, the individual may file a complaint alleging such treatment.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, it may be necessary to release this document and other correspondence and records upon request. In the event we receive such a request, we will seek to protect, to extent provided by law, personally identifiable information which, if released, could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Thank you for your patience and cooperation during the resolution process of this case. If you have any questions regarding this case, please contact Jean Finch at (202) 208-7649.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Anthony Hightower

Team Leader

Team III

 

Enclosure

Below is the link to the North Carolina agreement that resulted from the OCR Resolution  posted above.

http://uwctds.washington.edu/policy/11982046.LLA.htm.

 

 

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