Enrolling in a nursing school means getting through sleepless nights of studying and preparing for an exam to get high grades. Most nursing programs are demanding and rigorous from the very first day up to the last. There will also be times when a student’s effort results only to a below-the-average score which can be disheartening making many to fail the program. But if you do fail, do you think the University is liable?
A nursing student of Misericordia University in Pennsylvania thinks so as she is suing the university and some of its officials after she failed to pass a required nursing course twice.
Jennifer Burbella of Stroudsburg filed suit this month alleging Misericordia University violated the Federal Rehabilitation Act. The lawsuit included the school president Thomas J. Botzman, Cynthia Mailloux, chairwoman of the nursing department, and her nursing professor Christina Tomkins.
Burbella’s attorney, Harry McGrath, said her disabilities, including anxiety, depression, and stress, made it difficult for her to concentrate.
..her disabilities, including anxiety, depression, and stress, made it difficult for her to concentrate.
“She has some disabilities and under section 504 of The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, you can make certain accommodations, not only in educational setting, but in the workplace, et cetera,” McGrath said.
In 2010, Burbella was accepted into the school’s nursing program. According to the complaint, even before her enrollment, Burbella had an “existing predisposition” that caused anxiety and depression, and throughout her time at the university, she “experienced great anxiety as a result of her many challenges, both socially and academically, as well as medical issues with her family.”
By March 2011, Burbella was being treated at the school’s Counseling and Psychological Service Center, according to a report by CitizensVoice.
“[Burbella] struggled throughout her studies at Misericordia University, but always continued to seek a bachelor’s degree in nursing and appeared to be moving toward that goal, albeit with some average, but primarily below average grades,” McGrath said.
In spring of 2014, Burbella failed Functional Health Patterns of Adults IV, a required course that student nurses must pass with at least a C, after she did not receive any special accommodations that semester, says the lawsuit.
Burbella claims she was pressured to retake the course in a summer class beginning four days later.
Despite continuing counseling, Burbella began failing the course once more, according to the complaint.
During her final exam, the university gave Burbella some special accommodations where she was allowed more time to complete the test and could take it in a “distraction-free environment,” according to the lawsuit. Tomkins, her nursing professor, also offered to allow her to ask questions during the test.
When Burbella asked to take the exam in the same building Tomkins was administering the exam to other students, she was denied despite another disabled student was given a separate room in the same building.
According to the federal lawsuit, Burbella asked for help including extended time to complete exams, and communication with a professor during a test. During the test, Burbella repeatedly called Tomkins on her cellphone and got no response.
“Professor Tomkins’ failure to be available to [Burbella] on numerous occasions during the examination created an even more stressful environment for the student, all of which can be verified by Megan Hurley, a counselor at Misericordia University, who witnessed [Burbella] attempting to make calls to Professor Tomkins on several occasions during the exam and breaking down and crying when Tomkins did not answer,” McGrath said.
Burbella said Misericordia officials did not follow through on those things, so she failed to pass the required course, not once, but twice. In the end, she did not receive a sufficient score to pass the program and failed to graduate with a nursing degree.
McGrath said his client’s disabilities should not keep her from being a nurse.
“I think many people suffer from anxiety, depression, and those types of things who are doctors, lawyers, nurses,” said McGrath.
In the lawsuit, Burbella is seeking $75,000 in damages, but her attorney said what she wants more than anything is a chance to take the exam again.
…her attorney said what she wants more than anything is a change to take the exam again.
“She’s not looking for the university to ordain that she get this degree, she’s looking for a fair opportunity, which the statute provides, to take the exam. If she fails it that’s her own problem and she has to deal with it,” said McGrath.
Misericordia spokesman Paul Krzywicki said the university does not comment on pending litigation.
Burbella is no longer a student at Misericordia University.