UA parents seeking housing, fee refunds file lawsuit against ABOR

The parents hope to receive refunds for services that can no longer be claimed by students amid COVID-19 concerns

UA parents filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents Friday hoping for refunds for fees after all three universities transitioned to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester.

The suit seeks a class action designation and demands a jury trial. Students from ASU began their own petition to ask for a refund for meal plans and housing two weeks ago, which already has over 3,800 signatures. 

 A second petition asks for pro-rated tuition and housing refunds. 

"It's not fair to the students to have to pay for online classes when payments for in-person classes were made," the second petition says. "If possible, price adjusted refunds should be considered."

One of the many lawyers representing the UA parents said that their motion asks university presidents, like ASU President Michael Crow, to openly explain to a jury why they think withholding unused payments was not a breach of contract with students or their families. 

"When families are out of work and out of money, the universities should be helping them," said Adam Levitt, a lawyer with Chicago-based DiCello Levitt Gutzler, one of three firms representing the UA parents. 

The lawsuit is a culmination of students and parents who were "very unhappy" and felt that ABOR was "profiting off of the pandemic," Levitt said. 

ASU and NAU are the two schools that have yet to issue any kind of reimbursement for the unfinished meal plans, housing contracts and other fees for students who they asked to leave campus.

At ASU, it is highly recommended for freshmen to live in on-campus residence halls, which requires them to purchase a meal plan. 

The net price tuition calculator provided on the University's website estimates that in-state and out-of-state students pay about $13,510 for housing and meals alone. 

The suit claims a breach of contract as a number of students are not able to use and claim the services they paid for. 

The lawsuit asks for a refund for everything from room and board, meals and other fees used for maintenance, health clinics and athletics — all things that students who didn't immediately return from spring break, or have since moved out of the dorms, are no longer using.

"ABOR's decision to transition to online classes and to request or encourage students to leave campus were responsible decisions to make, but it is unfair and unlawful for ABOR to retain fees and costs and to pass the losses on to the students and their families," the lawsuit says. 

While the University is keeping housing open, it also recommended that students who could move out should do so.  

READ MORE: ASU asks on-campus students to consider moving out of residence halls

Crow told The State Press in an interview on March 24 that he "will be looking into" a potential refund.

"This is an unprecedented moment," Crow said. "When the smoke clears, we're going to come back in and take a very close look at what were our expenses? What were our costs? And I'm hopeful that we can find some way to recognize that some people obviously weren't eating the food that they had already paid for."

READ MORE: A Q&A with ASU President Michael Crow on COVID-19

UA is the only school out of the three that has offered partial refunds to students. Housing refunds start at about $640 and go up to over $2,500 depending on the housing option, and students could choose to receive a 10% refund of their meal plan cost or have a 20% credit put toward a meal plan for fall 2020.

READ MORE: COVID-19: How Arizona's universities are responding to the pandemic

Lawyers representing the UA parents said in the suit that the refund that the university offered was not enough, because it does not cover the full amount that was initially paid by students and their families, and in some cases would require the students to live on-campus or purchase meal plans again next school year. 

"To the extent refunds have been offered, the refunds have not been commensurate with the financial losses to the students and their families," the suit says. 

ABOR does not comment on pending litigation, said Julie Newberg, director of communications for the board, in a statement.


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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