A proposed class action lawsuit alleges the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) has essentially profited from the coronavirus pandemic by refusing to refund certain costs and fees to students ordered or strongly encouraged to move out as the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University transitioned to online classes for the Spring 2020 semester.
Filed by the parents of two University of Arizona students, the 22-page lawsuit claims that despite the Arizona Board of Regents’ “constructive eviction” of on-campus students and shutdown of all campus activities, the defendant has not offered refunds for the unused portions of students’ room, board and services costs. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that any refunds the defendant has offered have “not been commensurate” with the amounts of money students and their families have lost due to the schools’ transition to online classes.
“ABOR is, in essence, profiting from this pandemic,” the plaintiffs allege, charging that no matter whether the board had a choice in shutting down on-campus living, it is “unfair and unlawful” to retain room and board costs and “pass the losses onto the students and their families.”
Alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment, the plaintiffs demand that the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body that oversees the state’s universities, return to students unused room and board money on a pro-rated basis proportionate to the amount of time that remained in the Spring 2020 semester before classes moved online and services were halted.
Plaintiffs say universities got it “half right”
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak havoc on just about every facet of life, Arizona universities “were slower to react” to the growing threat while cities, municipalities and states implemented stronger measures to combat the crisis, the lawsuit says. In line with the government and healthcare professionals’ social distancing guidelines, the defendant made the call in March to mandate that students take all classes remotely and, in most cases, stay away from campus for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester in the face of growing concern about the number of COVID-19 cases, specifically at Arizona State University.
The plaintiffs argue that rather acknowledge the sweeping financial strain caused by COVID-19, the Arizona Board of Regents got it only “half right” in making the wise decision to shut down campuses but expecting students and their families to “bear the brunt” of the monetary burden caused by the disruption.
“Woefully insufficient” options
In place of a refund, University of Arizona students were offered a choice between two housing rent credit options, according to the suit. Option A, the case says, offered a 10-percent credit for the 2019-2020 academic year to be applied to a student’s Bursar’s account in May, whereas Option B allowed for a 20-percent credit to be applied to a student’s 2020-2021 academic year on-campus housing. Those who fail to choose either of the options by April 17, 2020 will have Option A selected by default, the case says.
According to the plaintiffs, neither option is sufficient given that the proposed housing and rent credits fail to return the pro-rated, unused portion of students’ room and board payments for the semester. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the 20-percent credit option is inadequate for students who do not intend to live on campus for the 2020-2021 academic years, either because they are graduating, switching to another school or moving to off-campus living. Further still, the plaintiffs claim that the “woefully insufficient” relief offered by the Arizona Board of Regents lacks any refund of the miscellaneous fees that were paid by students but ultimately went unused for part of the semester. Some of these fees, the suit claims, include a recreation center program fee, athletics fee and library fee.
With regard to the other universities, the lawsuit claims that though Arizona State on-campus housing remains open only to students who have no alternative options, the school has not offered or provided any refund of fees for room and board costs. Northern Arizona University, on the other hand, has chosen to maintain the appearance that on-campus living is still a viable option during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lawsuit alleges. From the complaint:
At Northern Arizona University, all classes were moved online effective March 23, 2020. Although students were not formally mandated to immediately move out of on-campus housing, given the Arizona state-wide mandate to avoid unnecessary contact with others, public health recommendations from the CDC, as well as the fact that there was no longer a need to remain on campus to attend live classes, many students made a personal decision to move out of their on-campus housing. These factors rendered the ability to remain in on campus housing illusory and any suggestion that students should have stayed on campus is empty, dangerous, and irresponsible.”
Like the other institutions, Northern Arizona University has not offered or provided students any refund of room and board costs, the suit says. Though the defendant claims that remaining on campus is still an option, the truth of the matter, the lawsuit argues, is that residence halls in Arizona “are not designed to safely house students in the event of a pandemic.”
Notwithstanding the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the apparent conduct of the Arizona Board of Regents “is not excused,” the suit says.
Plaintiffs and other members of the Room and Board Class have been damaged in that they have been deprived of the value they paid for room and board while ABOR retained that value.”
Who is covered by this lawsuit?
The plaintiffs look to cover those who paid the costs of room and board for or on behalf of students enrolled in classes at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University or Northern Arizona University for the Spring 2020 semester who moved out of their on-campus housing prior to the end of the semester due to the Board of Regents’ policies and announcements relating to COVID-19.
The complaint can be read below.
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