Student sues Middlebury College over its COVID-19 prevention steps
MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury College student has filed a federal lawsuit against his school for failing to provide refunds on tuition and fees after the campus was shut down last spring due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Henry Mooers, a senior from Norwell, Mass., is seeking to turn his legal action into a class action lawsuit on behalf of an estimated 2,517 Middlebury students, according to the U.S. District Court records in Burlington.
Middlebury has failed to refund any amount of tuition or any of the mandatory fees even though it canceled classes for two weeks in conjunction with spring break about March 13 and implemented online distance learning only, the 18-page lawsuit said.
“In short, Plaintiff and the members of the Class have paid for tuition for a first-rate education and an on-campus, in person educational experience, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate College, and were provided a materially deficient and insufficient alternative, which constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into by the Plaintiff with the College,” the lawsuit noted.
The lawsuit seeks for himself and the class members for the private college to return a pro-rated portion of the tuition and fees.
Besides the breach of contract claim, Mooers also maintains there was an unjust enrichment by Middlebury College. The other two counts maintain there was consumer fraud and improper taking of property by canceling in-person classes that the plaintiffs had funded.
The lawsuit was filed late last week and Middlebury College has three weeks to file a written response.
Middlebury College defended its educational efforts in a prepared statement Wednesday.
“As we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, Middlebury remains focused on delivering the high-quality academic programs and services that our students and their families expect while also supporting the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff,” Sarah Ray, director of media relations said.
“We are deeply committed to enriching in-person, virtual, and hybrid instruction so that students receive the benefits accruing from a rigorous academic experience complemented by a compelling community experience. The costs of providing that high-quality educational experience have increased, rather than diminished, in light of the pandemic. Middlebury also is need-blind and meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students,” she said.
“Last spring, faculty worked creatively and quickly to ensure the continuity of education for our students. Our ability to provide this continuity is dependent on our existing revenue sources, which include both tuition and a larger-than-usual draw on our endowment to help offset these new costs. We also have worked hard to reduce and limit new costs as much as possible. These measures have allowed us to deliver on our promise of a meaningful and rewarding education for our students while also continuing to pay the salaries of our dedicated faculty and staff,” her statement said.
Many colleges have provided partial refunds to students, but Marketwatch reported more than 100 colleges and universities throughout the country were facing similar lawsuits as of late May. The University of Vermont is among the institutions that have been sued.
Mooers is represented by a team of five lawyers, including Tristan Larson of the Larson & Gallivan Law firm in Rutland.
Middlebury College charged about $28,940 for spring semester tuition for undergraduate students, up to $8,315 for room and board, and about $218 for mandatory student activity fees, the lawsuit noted.
The college canceled access to health and wellness facilities or programs, fitness facilities, student events and sports and an in-person commencement, Mooers said in court papers.
The lawsuit notes Middlebury College markets itself for the on-campus experience and opportunities.
“The online learning options being offered to Middlebury’s students are sub-par in practically every aspect,” the lawsuit said. “There was a lack of classroom interaction among teachers and students, and among students that is instrumental in educational development and instruction.”
Mooers said online formats being used by Middlebury “do not require memorization or development of strong study skills given the absence of any possibility of being called on in class and the ability to consult books and other materials when taking exams.”
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