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Student sues Brenau, alleging expulsion was retaliation over a disability. The university says she cheated.
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A former Brenau University student claimed in a federal lawsuit the school retaliated against her after she filed complaints about not receiving proper accommodations for her disability, according to court documents.

Jessi’ca Coley filed the suit Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court against Brenau University and other members of the school.

Coley was accepted into the university’s nursing program in August 2020 and informed the school of her “requirements for accommodations and modifications” for a documented disability.

The disability was described in a U.S. Department of Education letter as affecting “comprehension and processing, anxiety and having a cancer-based tumor.”

“She has had some issues as it relates to how her eyes see things,” Coley’s attorney Kamau Mason told The Times.

Those accommodations included extended time on tests, extensions on assignments, and a “reduced-distraction testing environment.”

“She certainly had the requisite level of intelligence in order to be able to succeed there, and she was met with resistance,” Mason said.

She claimed in the lawsuit that she took several exams where she was denied the accommodations and filed written grievances in September, October and November.

A week after her third complaint, Coley was accused of “being involved with cheating on two separate occasions” and was subsequently expelled for cheating, according to the lawsuit.

Mason said he believes Coley was not afforded proper due process regarding her expulsion.

Brenau Director of Communications Edie Rogers said the university does not discuss pending legal matters.

Coley filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, which investigated and found insufficient evidence to support Coley’s allegations.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reviewed video exam recordings, which showed that three students were talking while wearing smartwatches “and hats or headbands with hair covering their ears.” 

Though Coley “contended her speaking during testing was due to her disability, (the Office for Civil Rights) noted that the student did not have an accomodation to read aloud during testing,” according to the Department of Education.

The Office of Civil Rights said it was “not making a determination of whether the student cheated,” but that the university’s actions were reasonable and consistent with the academic dishonesty policy.

The lawsuit is alleging discrimination based upon disability and retaliation under federal law while alleging defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty under state law.

The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial for damages, though a specific amount is not listed.

In its legal response, the school denied the allegations about Coley not receiving the requested accommodations. The school also wrote that Coley was allegedly observed “by faculty cheating on exams” and was expelled for cheating.