Lawsuit, DOJ review spur Princeton to change mental-health policy

Princeton Woodrow Wilson
The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Under an agreement between Princeton and the U.S. Department of Justice, the university will evaluate requests to modify policies, rules, and regulations to accommodate students with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement Monday with Princeton University to better address the needs of students with mental-health disabilities.

The department launched a compliance review shortly after a federal lawsuit was filed in 2014 by a student alleging discriminatory treatment.

The student said that when he was hospitalized after ingesting 20 tablets of a prescribed antidepressant, the university barred him from his dorm room and classes, even from setting foot on campus. He was told to submit to "voluntary" withdrawal.

He fought the university, but eventually did withdraw.

Although he was later readmitted, the student alleged that he suffered from the experience of being forced out, and from being away for a year.

In a statement late Monday, the university said the department "did not make any findings of noncompliance, but asked Princeton to update its policy language to better explain university procedures and options available to students with disabilities, which Princeton has agreed to do."

"Princeton has worked for years to make the University more accessible to and supportive of students with disabilities. The Department of Justice agreement focuses on better explaining what we are doing. This is an opportunity to restress and raise the profile of policies we have in place," said Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity.

That suit remains pending and is not affected by the agreement, which states that the university has revised its policy on leaves of absence and reinstatement for undergraduate students, and will further update the policy to be consistent with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Under the agreement, the university will evaluate requests to modify policies, rules, and regulations to accommodate students with disabilities.

The university will provide annual training for all faculty and staff responsible for evaluating or deciding requests from students for reasonable accommodations.

"Through this agreement, students with disabilities move closer to achieving full equality and integration into places of higher education," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, District of New Jersey.

"This agreement reflects the critical role that colleges play in fulfilling the promise of the ADA: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency," said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division.

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