Two students file class action lawsuits against Iowa colleges over tuition costs after schools moved online

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 10:55 PM CDT
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Iowa (KCRG) - Earlier this week, a Wartburg College student filed a class action lawsuit against the college over the cost of tuition after losing on-campus educational time and in-person resources amid the pandemic.

Sydney Warner filed the lawsuit this week in Bremer County District Court alleging the value of the remote learning provided by the college was less than the value of the on-campus experience promised by the college, and that a portion of the tuition fees for the Spring 2020 semester should be refunded as a result.

Bart Goplerud is an attorney with the Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese law firm in West Des Moines. He and his team are representing Warner, along with Hedin Hall LLP, based in Florida.

Goplerud says this lawsuit has a narrow focus. “They went to campus, they expected the on-life campus experience, and the in classroom teaching. And midway through the semester that all changed. They went to remote learning and they no longer had what is the basis of our claims, they no longer have access to that on campus and in personal experience,” he says.

Goplerud says on March 18th, a Mount Mercy University student filed a similar lawsuit in Linn County District Court against the Cedar Rapids university. He says the same law firms are handling both cases. That lawsuit states the plaintiff, Brittney White, was an undergraduate student in nursing at Mount Mercy during the spring of 2020.

Both are class-action lawsuits, meaning other students enrolled in those colleges in the spring of 2020 could see some of their money back if the lawsuits are successful. “That way tens or hundreds or thousands of people don’t have to file their own individual lawsuit. It can be brought by one person, and if at the end of the day is successful, everybody will benefit financially,” says Goplerud.

There have been similar lawsuits across the country, many of which have been dismissed. Goplerud says many of those cases focused on the impact of virtual classes versus in-person classes, while the lawsuits against Wartburg College and Mount Mercy University have a different approach. “It’s difficult to quantify what, if any difference that remote learning is,” says Goplerud, “Where as our lawsuit is focused on those in campus experiences of the library was shut down, the gym is shut down, the theater was shut down, other resources such as labs and clinics were shut down and unavailable to them.”

In July, Wartburg College announced it would be offering a free fifth-year to any full-time students during the 2020-2021 academic year.

KCRG-TV9 reached out to both colleges, and did not hear back from Mount Mercy University by the time this story was published.

Wartburg College says it can’t comment on pending litigation.

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