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FIU Student Adds To Lawsuits Over Tuition, Fees

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Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE --- Alleging “inferior” online classes after campuses closed this spring because of the coronavirus, a Florida International University student has filed what is at least the third potential class-action lawsuit seeking refunds for students in the state university system.

Attorneys for Sarah Fagundez, an FIU graduate student from Miami, filed the lawsuit late Tuesday in Leon County circuit court against the university system’s Board of Governors. It came a day after a similar lawsuit was filed in federal court against the University of Florida Board of Trustees and a little more than a week after another case was filed against the Board of Governors in circuit court.

Fagundez contends that she and other students throughout the university system should receive refunds of portions of tuition and fees that they paid. Students were shifted to online learning in March to try to prevent the spread of the virus, and classes will remain online during the summer.

While the details of the lawsuits vary somewhat --- the first two cases, for example, focus only on the spring semester, while Fagundez also raises arguments about summer classes --- their thrust is the same: Students did not get everything they paid for and should receive reimbursements.

“Plaintiff (Fagundez) does not impugn defendant for taking measures to protect the public health; but defendant must acknowledge that the education and services it now provides to students throughout the university system lack the full value of those for which plaintiff and the class paid,” Tuesday’s lawsuit against the Board of Governors said. “Not only is a fully online college experience inferior, socially and academically, to the in-person experience for which plaintiff and the class paid; but the university system’s ersatz online courses now offered to students are inferior to online courses that were conceived as such in the first instance.”

University officials scrambled this spring to shut down campuses and move to all-online courses. The crisis also has created uncertainty about whether classes will be held in-person or online in the fall and is causing financial concerns for universities.

The suit filed by Fagundez and the federal lawsuit filed Monday by Dylan Egleston against the University of Florida trustees contend students are entitled to reimbursement of portions of tuition and fees, which include such things as athletic fees and transportation fees. Fagundez, for example, paid $7,880 in tuition and fees for the spring semester, according to her lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed last week in Leon County circuit court against the Board of Governors by University of Florida graduate student Anthony Rojas seeks only a refund of fees and diverges from the arguments in the other cases about reimbursing tuition.

“Plaintiff’s claims relate solely to fees paid by Florida residents for on-campus services and do not concern fees or costs for tuition and/or room and board because students were able to complete their courses and obtain their credits for the spring semester and because the universities have offered appropriate refunds relating to room and board, but not as to fees,” the Rojas lawsuit said.

All three lawsuits make allegations such as breach of contract and “unjust enrichment.” The Fagundez and Rojas suits seek to be class actions on behalf of students throughout the university system, while the Egleston case focuses on the University of Florida. Judges will ultimately decide whether to allow them to proceed as class actions.