LYNCHBURG, Va. – Liberty University is facing backlash from some for how it handled university operations in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and it could all unfold in a federal courtroom.
Adam Levitt is one of three attorneys representing a Liberty University student who chose not to go back to campus during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Our moms have always said, ‘If you take something that isn’t yours, just give it back’, and that’s what this case is all about,” said Levitt.
A new class-action lawsuit claims the school refuses to give refunds to students and families who paid for parking, room and board, and on-campus activity services that students are no longer using while at home.
“It’s truly unfortunate. We’re seeing, unfortunately, a course of action that requires lawyers like us to stand up and force the university to do the right thing,” said Levitt.
Levitt says his client, known only in the lawsuit as “Student A," wants to stay anonymous, out of fear and concern of negative treatment in the classroom or possible expulsion.
Per the lawsuit, Student A also represents the other 15,000 on-campus students.
“Student A is really unhappy about this. Fortunately, (he or she) has made a choice to take a stand,” Levitt said.
The university says it will give $1,000 credit to certain students who opted to move from the residence halls.
In a statement sent to 10 News, Liberty University said:
"We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved ... we don't believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students."
Levitt disagrees. He says in the last 24 hours, they’ve heard from more parents who believe the school should be held accountable.
"We [parents] are scared that if we step forward and put our names out there our children could face incredible retaliation,” Levitt said.
Read the class action complaint in its entirety here:
Below is the full statement Liberty University sent 10 News:
“Liberty University has tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19. We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved. While it’s not surprising that plaintiff class action attorneys would seek to profit from a public health crisis, we don’t believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students. Similar class-action suits are pending against other schools, and such claims will no doubt be made against other higher education institutions that changed how they operate and deliver services to students in the face of COVID-19. Liberty’s attorneys will defend against this lawsuit, which is without legal merit. Each of Liberty’s changes in operations and modes of delivery has been required by governmental officials, a fact the complaint omits. That fact legally excuses Liberty’s adjustments and leaves the plaintiffs without a legal case. Even so, Liberty will still honor its pledge to provide $1,000 credits to certain students who have opted to move from the residence halls and will continue to allow its students to obtain academic credit in their educational programs online without interruption. Liberty’s less populated and more frequently sanitized campus living environment will be maintained for those students who chose it as their safest option. Thankfully these measures have resulted in no on-campus student testing positive for COVID-19 thus far. A more complete response to the 84 paragraphs of allegations will be filed with the court but not shared in advance with the media.”
We reached out to other colleges and universities in the area who have chosen to give or not give refunds.
University of Lynchburg:
“Yes, it’s issuing refunds/credits for room and board." Click here to read about its refund policy.
“We did give residential students a partial refund of room and board. I can’t give you one figure for each student. It would be different for each student based on factors like their financial aid package, etc.”
Central Virginia Community College:
“Currently CVCC students are completing their spring semester course work via remote learning. As you know, CVCC established our remote learning format in March following COVID-19 directives from the governor's office and the Virginia Community College System leadership. And since this change took place halfway into the semester, when many student activities had already taken place, no refunds are planned.”
University president Tim Sands says they are issuing refunds for dining, on-campus housing and parking. But Refunds will not be issued for tuition this semester.