University of Rhode Island freshman Allison Smith was diagnosed with a concussion on Oct. 19 of this year. As she met with her professors to explain her situation, Smith said her professors were understanding and accommodating, except when it came to chemistry 101.

She followed university protocol: met with the department of Disability Services for Students, provided the necessary documentation and was given a notice outlining her disability along with the request for accommodations in the classroom.

Her professor, Shahla Yekta, refused to reschedule a makeup exam for Smith, even in her concussed state. In an email exchange, Smith asked Yekta to “consider giving her more time to take the test” in accordance with her disability notice.

Yekta refused, and said she “does not offer extensions on exams,” and cited that this kind of situation was the reason for the “drop option” in the syllabus.

“If you are well, you can try the exam, and if it doesn’t go well, this can be your drop exam that you can make up during the final,” Yekta said in the email.

Additionally, Smith asked for an extension on her online homework, to which she received the same response: that the lowest homework grade would be dropped.

As part of her treatment plan, Smith said she was not allowed to look at screens, do any real school work and was put on bed rest until her doctor cleared her of her concussion symptoms.

Smith sought out her URI 101 mentor, sophomore Austin Shission, for help.

“I first went to disability services, and they said there was nothing we could do, that it’s the chemistry department that isn’t following the rules,” Shission said. When he went to speak to Yekta, “she said that the [concussion] was not a disability, there was nothing she could do.” Shission also tried to speak to the chemistry department, who said the same thing.

Upon going back to Disability services, Shission was told that this was “a common problem with the chemistry department for years.”

Yekta and Bill Euler, chemistry department head, declined to comment. Director of Student Life and Disability Services Pamela Rohland would not comment directly on this case, but said that “it was very rare that a professor or department ‘refuses’ to provide an accommodation.”

“We have good collegial and respectful relationships with all colleges and academic departments,” Rohland said.

Smith was cleared of her concussion a week and a half after the rest of the class took the exam. When she asked again to retake the test, Smith was given the same answer.

“You’re saying that the student is forced to take a zero because of a temporary disability?” Shission questioned. “Whether or not it’s temporary or permanent, it’s still a disability.” He argues that it is illegal that Smith’s disability is being ignored.

While the Americans With Disabilities Act does not hold short-term injuries, like concussions, to the same standards as permanent disabilities, disability services states on their website that “URI Disability Services for Students may, in good faith, as space and resources allow, be able to assist with non-ADA environmental adjustments and to help facilitate the student’s inclusion in the community on a temporary basis.”

Now, nearly a month after the incident, Smith is still facing problems from her concussion. This past Monday, Smith went back to Health Services when she realized her concussion symptoms were getting bad again.

“I think I went back to work too early,” Smith said. “I took two exams before break; even then, after the first test, I had a mental breakdown and almost started crying during my exam.” She described taking the exams as “horrible.”

Health services ordered an MRI, as her concussion symptoms should not be lasting this long, she said. Even though her MRI came back normal, health services referred Smith to a neurologist.

“It’s still pretty bad and it’s been a month and a half, it’s not okay,” Smith said. “I don’t know if that has to do with the work I was doing. I was still doing my homework for chemistry, and was expected to study and pass my classes.”

In hopes to salvage her chemistry grade, as it’s a necessary class for her biology major, Smith is in the process of dropping two classes to spend more time on chemistry. “I can’t fall behind, I need chemistry,” she said. “I wish I could just do away with it, but I have to take Chem II next semester.”

 

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Emma is a senior journalism and English double major with a minor in political science from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She has worked for the Cigar since her first semester at URI as a staff reporter, then web editor, news editor and finally Editor in Chief. Emma also edits for the URI research magazine, Momentum, and hopes to find a career in political reporting upon her graduation in May.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Well written and informative, Emma! The hardship of the concussion itself is enough for this student; she was unfairly treated, further adding to a stressful situation. Thank you for reporting this and bringing this information out there!

  2. Confused to why all the comments got deleted on this? Funny how when an opinion is not in a specific groups favor it is immediately disregarded and deleted. As I said in my previous comment, some professors at this school need to be more approachable and less entitled because they have prof or doctor in front of their name.

  3. To be someone who is in my 4th year at URI, I can tell you that this does not surprise me one bit. This Chemistry department has been a joke for years. This is just a smaller issue that correlates to a larger problem in a educational system. There is no trust between some professors and students. In the real world if you have a concussion your boss will give you some time to recover, however in school they say no your taking the exam now and if you fail, oh well. Ive had multiple concussions due to sports in high school and I never once had a teacher fight with me over getting an extension. Some professors such as the ones in this department need to stop acting all entitled its immature and shows their true character. Instead work with the student and encourage them to get better and work even harder. Stuff like this only discourages a student from staying motivated as they feel like no one understands what they are going through. Some professors at this school need to look back on how they got to where they are now and notice how many breaks they received and how people motivated them to get to were they are in their fields.

  4. Of course let me also say if this student was a football player – they would have their own notetaker in class, be excused from all work, and probably be given money for the loss. 😉

  5. As a mom of a college student with a disability, and an educator in the post secondary world- I feel badly for this student. Technically the professor is correct in that if a temporary disability had an expected life of less than 6 months, the student is. It considered a disability that is covered under the ADA act section 504. I recommend that the student get s more definitive diagnosis from a neurologist and withdraw from that professors class or switch to a different professor who is willing to give the accommodations. The student may be able to file an OCR complaint however, without a more permanent diagnosis it may be for naught.

    "A temporary impairment does not constitute a disability for purposes of Section 504 unless its severity is such that it results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities for an extended period of time. The issue of whether a temporary impairment is substantial enough to be a disability must be resolved on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration both the duration (or expected duration) of the impairment and the extent to which it actually limits a major life activity of the affected individual.

    In the Amendments Act (see FAQ 1), Congress clarified that an individual is not “regarded as” an individual with a disability if the impairment is transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less." http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html

  6. Wow – there seems to be a wicked breakdown in communication between the chemistry department and the disabilities department. I wonder what the president of the university thinks of this communication breakdown. First concern should be the health and welfare of the student. There clearly is more testing that she needs to undergo for her own sake healthwise to get a handle on just what type of injury she incurred – concussion may only be a part of it – it may be something much more – hopefully not, my prayers are with her in that respect. I think the world in general, takes disabilities too lightly and possibly because there are people that abuse them hopefully this is not the case. Each case is separate and very different. Chemistry, please take a step back, rethink your decision, we are all human and to be wrong once in a while is normal. Allison, don't stress too much – do what you have to to get the concussion effects under control so you can move forward with out pain – follow the doctors orders.