A U.S. district judge has dismissed a court case in which Pitt students sought tuition reimbursement after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University to transition to primarily remote learning last spring.
U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said in a court opinion dated April 27 that while the court is sympathetic to the struggles students faced because of the pandemic, the University of Pittsburgh was required to take certain actions.
“The unforeseen circumstances relating to the pandemic and the response of governments and institutions were just that — unforeseen,” Strickman said. “When the governor of Pennsylvania declared a state of emergency, the University’s hands were tied as it was required to act in accordance with the measures put in place.”
Pitt students Claire Hickey and Akira Kirkpatrick filed the original lawsuit in May 2020, and since then, four other students joined the suit on behalf of themselves and others in similar situations
Among other demands in the lawsuit, the students sought a prorated refund of tuition and fees for part of the semester.
The students claimed in the lawsuit Pitt’s online learning options were “subpar to in-person instruction” and “are different in practically every aspect as compared to what the educational experience afforded plaintiffs and members of the class once was.”
The judge said the University, as much as its students, “had to pivot and change to adapt to circumstances unforeseen by everyone only weeks and days before the COVID-19 mitigation measures were imposed.” Strickman said students were still given the chance to complete the semester and earn college credits, so there was no breach of “an implied in fact contract.”
The students also claimed that depictions of student life in Pitt promotional materials and admission papers “created a certain expectation of the type of college experience that they would receive in return for their tuition and fees.”
The court said the University’s website and promotional materials showing ordinary life on campus “do not constitute identifiable and specific promises,” and don’t constitute breach of contract.
— Donovan Harrell
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