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DePaul Students Sue For Tuition Refunds, Claiming Online Classes Offer ‘Lesser’ Education

The class action lawsuit, filed by two DePaul students, seeks partial tuition refunds for the hands-on classroom instruction students missed out on because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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LINCOLN PARK — Two students filed a class action lawsuit against DePaul University calling for partial tuition reimbursements due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Chicago federal court, seeks partial refunds for the “educational and other services [students] did not and will not receive after they were forced to leave campus” when the pandemic hit.

Senior Enrique Chavez and master’s student Emma Sheikh filed the class action lawsuit for any students enrolled in the spring and summer quarters. Similar lawsuits have been filed throughout the country.

DePaul operates on a quarter system and finished its winter quarter on March 20, just as the state’s stay-at-home order was beginning. Base tuition ranges from $13,000 to $14,000 per term.

When the spring quarter started March 28, the university already had told students all courses that term would be moved online, and students were charged in full for tuition that quarter, the suit alleges.

“Essentially, students have paid DePaul for hands-on classroom instruction and experiences in which they can no longer engage, learning facilities they can no longer enter and academic resources they can no longer access,” the lawsuit reads.

According to an April 10 Forbes report, DePaul received more than $14 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security act.

“Defendants are thus profiting from COVID-19, asking students and their families — many of whom have been laid off, become ill, or are otherwise suffering significantly — to bear the financial brunt of the pandemic,” the suit alleges.

Chavez and Sheikh could not be reached for comment, but Sheikh, who’s studying elementary education, told student-run newspaper the DePaulia that online instruction does not come close to the experience they would get working in Chicago Public Schools. The online classes offer a “lesser” learning experience, the suit claims.

“You have to see what actual classroom environments are like in order to be able to succeed in those environments, and that’s just been completely taken from us,” she said.

Students have also started a Change.org petition demanding for spring tuition to be lowered that’s received more than 5,800 signatures in two months.

In an emailed statement, DePaul spokesperson Carol Hughes accused the lawsuit of trying to “take advantage of difficult decisions DePaul University made to save lives” and providing an “erroneous view” of the university’s COVID-19 response.

She said the university has offered students financial relief by freezing tuition for the next school year; refunding housing, meal plans and campus health care charges for on-campus students; and offering the chance to drop their spring classes for a full refund.

The school also waived the $27 student activity fee, $25 athletic fee and $125 public transit fee.

“Throughout this pandemic, DePaul’s priority has been the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Hughes said.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.

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