Student Files Suit Against U niversity

By Hannah Martins
Published: Friday, October 30th, 2009

Diane Metcalf-Leggette ’13 is suing the University for refusing to grant her extended time on examinations, the New Jersey Law Journal reported on Tuesday. Metcalf-Leggette, who filed the suit on Monday, claims that she should be given extra time on tests because of her learning disabilities.

Metcalf-Leggette, who is a varsity soccer player, requested a preliminary injunction to coincide with midterms, but the motion was denied by U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton earlier this week. Metcalf-Leggette argued that poor midterm exam grades would cause her “irreparable harm,” but Thompson said the University could deal with any issues after administering the tests.

The next hearing is set for Jan. 11, before the start of finals. For the case to proceed, Metcalf-Leggette will need to show “probability of success in her suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the law journal reported.

Metcalf-Leggette’s complaint asserted that she has four learning disabilities, which were diagnosed in 2003: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mixed-receptive-expressive language disorder, disorder of written expression and developmental coordination disorder. The conditions, according to the complaint, hinder her ability to focus, process information and communicate in writing.

The suit comes after a series of meetings with school officials during which Metcalf-Leggette sought accommodation for her disabilities. The University currently accommodates Metcalf-Leggette’s disabilities by offering her a “reduced distraction testing environment,” a limit of one exam per day and a 10-minute break each hour, the law journal reported.

Metcalf-Leggette’s complaint also notes that her older brother, David Metcalf ’08, also had learning disabilities and received 100 percent time extensions on University exams. The complaint states that this accommodation was approved by the former director of the Office of Disability Services and was left in place “as a courtesy” by Eve Tominey, the current director, after she took over the position. Tominey declined to comment for this article.

The complaint alleges that Tominey told Metcalf-Leggette that only eight other students currently receive accommodations from the Office of Disability Services, and that none have been awarded extra exam time. The complaint further asserts that, in a Sept. 3 letter to Metcalf-Leggette, Tominey wrote, “Your request for extended time would not be warranted as your disability does not demonstrate that you are disabled in your ability to learn in comparison to the general population.”

Tominey further advised Metcalf-Leggette that it was University policy not to give students with learning disabilities extra time on tests, according to the complaint.

University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96 said in an e-mail that “the University is committed to ensuring access to its programs for students with disabilities.”

“We are attentive to our obligations under state and federal law to ensure equal access to our programs and activities,” Cliatt added, “and we have an Office of Disability Services that helps respond to these requests on a case-by-case basis as they pertain to the specific individual needs of each member of our community.”

Cliatt declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Metcalf-Leggette’s complaint asserts that she informed the University of her disabilities when she was applying and sent Princeton statements from a “Virginia-licensed Clinical Psychologist/Neuropsychologist” who recommended that she be accommodated with 100 percent time extensions.

The complaint also asserts that Metcalf-Leggette’s learning disabilities severely hamper her ability to complete examinations within allotted time frames. ADHD weakens her ability to concentrate and requires her to reread passages several times, while the language, writing expression and developmental coordination disorders limit her capacity to recall material and write. She asserts in the complaint that these disorders cause her to repeatedly recheck her progress when writing.

To address these conditions, Metcalf-Leggette’s complaint said, she is forced to take steps like “isolating the material and processing it in small increments,” adding that these measures are “extremely time consuming, and, in a timed testing situation, [place] her at a severe disadvantage in comparison with her peers.”

“The literature is pretty clear that extended time doesn’t do any favors for students who are not disabled. What my client needs is to do is cut through the haze of her disability, which is a labor-intensive process,” Seth Lapidow, one of Metcalf-Leggette’s attorneys, told the law journal. “She’s very bright and very able. She has some significant hurdles presented by her disabilities that she’s overcome.”

Metcalf-Leggette graduated with honors from The Wakefield School in The Plains, Va., where she was granted a 100 percent time extension on all school exams and on the SAT, according to the complaint. She also received a 200 percent time extension on the ACT.

At a Sept. 19 meeting, University attorney Hannah Ross told Metcalf-Leggette that Princeton is not required to offer extended time on exams if doing so would jeopardize the “essence” of a Princeton education, the law journal reported.

According to the complaint, Ross suggested the suit did not have a high probability of success in an Oct. 21 letter to Metcalf-Leggette’s attorneys. “[T]he decision of what accommodations are reasonable in the context of Princeton University’s academic program is an academic judgment, which we expect will receive significant deference from any court,” the letter allegedly said.

“My only comment is I hope this gets resolved quickly,” Metcalf-Leggette said in an e-mail to The Daily Princetonian. She declined to comment further on the case.

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