Deaf Students Sue Louisiana Community College System

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Deaf students have sued Louisiana's community college system, saying their grades suffered or they lost financial aid because they could not get interpreters or other accommodation for their disability.

New Orleans attorney Andrew Bizer says that although the lawsuit currently names two New Orleans plaintiffs, more will be added.

"Unfortunately we've found that there is just widespread discrimination against deaf people in all different manners," Bizer said. "The only way to enforce their rights is through civil lawsuits."

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System spokesman Quintin Taylor tells The Advertiser that he cannot talk about pending litigation.

"We take this issue and all issues of accessibility of our students and faculty very seriously," he said. "We always do everything we can to provide proper access to our students and faculty."

The original suit was filed in October on behalf of two students at Delgado Community College. Bizer says he withdraw it and re-filed it Jan. 5 in the federal Middle District, in Baton Rouge, after hearing from more students with similar claims.

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Bizer's civil rights law firm has represented clients denied sign language interpreters in medical and criminal justice settings. He said he learned about Delgado students Lee Em Bruce and Ronneka Smith, the two plaintiffs so far, through the firm's work with other deaf clients.

According to the lawsuit, both complained to a Delgado official about difficulty getting American Sign Language interpreters, but the official was unable to ensure that interpreters came to their classes.

According to the lawsuit, Bruce was never able to get an interpreter to help with the financial aid office, and dropped two of his three courses in early 2017 not realizing this would cost him his scholarship. "He did not know this because he did not receive interpreters to communicate with the financial aid staff," according to the lawsuit.

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He was able to get classroom interpreters until early 2017, but those who had been interpreting his remaining course in digital circuits stopped showing up in March 2017.

Smith was able to get adequate interpreters for two of the five courses she was taking in January 2017, but not for three others. "Ms. Smith also intends to prove at trial that the lack of sufficient accommodations has caused her grades to suffer," the lawsuit states.

"It's just a shame," Bizer said. "These deaf students just want to get an education like everyone else."

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