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Students sue Oregon colleges over cost of remote learning during the pandemic

Undergraduate student Danielle Pranger and graduate student Garrett Harris filed a lawsuit against Oregon State University on March 5, while Caine Smith filed his lawsuit against the University of Oregon on March 19, according to the lawsuits.

Both lawsuits claim that even though students were sent home and campuses were closed, the schools “continued to charge for tuition, and/or fees as if nothing changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students.”

The suit seek monetary damages of unspecified amount in “prorated unused amounts of tuition and fees,” damages, attorney fees and costs.

Steve Berman, an attorney for the students in both cases, said his clients did not get the full value of what they paid for when campuses closed and switched to online sessions. The lawsuits claim the schools have refused to refund or reimburse students for tuition and other fees they paid for “a comprehensive on-campus academic experience.”

“We believe that when OSU closed its campus, transitioning to online-only classes, it barred tuition payers from the very things they paid for, and in our opinion, they deserve repayment,” Berman said. “The University of Oregon, we believe, has unfairly continued to charge tuition payers for all of the things they were not allowed to experience and use during the Covid-19 campus closure and switch to online classes.”

Both schools said that they continued to provide students with a high-quality education.

“Oregon State University has remained open since winter term 2020 during the pandemic on its campuses in Corvallis and at OSU-Cascades in Bend. OSU continues to provide students a high-quality education courses in person, remotely and online,” said Steve Clark, OSU vice president for university relations and marketing.

The University of Oregon issued a statement saying “the lawsuit is wrong on the law and on the facts.” The school said the lawsuit’s claims that the school’s costs have decreased are false.

“In fact, our costs have increased due to a variety of new technology and infrastructure investments needed to provide quality instruction and to protect our campus community’s health and safety,” the university’s statement said. “Nonetheless, the university has taken care to refund our students for a number of services and amenities that they were unable to access due to federal state and local health directives.”

Many schools across the US opted for in-person learning last August, but were met with outbreaks caused sometimes by students who did not abide to safety protocols or the schools themselves not putting enough safety precautions in place to prevent such outbreaks. These clusters of Covid-19 then led some schools to shut down campus and transition to online learning.
The law firm representing the students, Hagens Berman, is suing at least 17 other universities over tuition paid during the pandemic.
Students in other states have also filed lawsuits against their schools. In New York, students sued Columbia University, Pace University and Long Island University, making similar arguments that the schools have failed to adequately refund or reimburse students for tuition and other fees they paid to have in-person, on-campus classes and other activities.

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