Woman, parents challenge SOU withdrawal
A 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome and her parents are challenging a Southern Oregon University decision to withdraw the woman from a university-level ceramics class.
Eliza Schaaf, a graduate of Ashland High School, was auditing the ceramics class as a way to share the college experience with her friends from high school, her parents said.
"All we want is for Eliza to be able to finish the class," said Ron Schaaf, her father. "We are just mystified that so close to the end of the class this decision could be made."
Eliza Schaaf already had completed two-thirds of the class when she received the letter Nov. 8 notifying her she would be withdrawn from the class and the family would be given a full refund of tuition and fees, said Deb Evans, Schaaf's mother. There are just seven more classes remaining for the term.
The family has until Thursday to file a formal appeal of the decision, according to the letter, which Evans shared with the Mail Tribune.
The letter by Alissa Arp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, stated that even with accommodations, Eliza Schaaf was not qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in the class.
Arp wrote that Schaaf required excessive supervision and one-on-one attention that limited the instructor's ability to interact with the rest of the class. In one case, during a visit to SOU's Schneider Museum of Art, Arp said Schaaf failed to follow instructions not to touch museum exhibits.
Schaaf's parents disagreed with the university's conclusion.
Evans said Schaaf was quiet in class, did not disrupt the delivery of the curriculum and largely worked independently on projects.
She said she accompanied Schaaf to class to provide assistance but was told two weeks later that her role as a personal assistant should not go beyond helping Schaaf get physically situated.
Ron Schaaf said he would not demand that his daughter be allowed to enroll next term in any more classes but said she should be permitted to complete the ceramics course.
Schaaf initially enrolled in the class online without notifying the university in advance that she had Down syndrome, Evans said.
"She loves art, any kind of art," Evans said.
After enrollment, Evans said she contacted Robin Strangfeld, assistant professor of art, to let her know that Schaaf had Down syndrome. Evans was referred to SOU's Academic Support Services. The staff there suggested Schaaf enroll in a Continuing Education course rather than a university-level class.
However, Schaaf's goal was to experience college with people her own age, so the family asked that Schaaf be allowed to go to the Ceramics 255 class she'd enrolled in, Evans said.
In October, the family met with Laura O'Bryon, dean of student affairs, and Associate Provost Susan Walsh to discuss concerns that Evans' role as personal assistant was disruptive, Evans said. O'Bryon and Walsh suggested a less disruptive solution would be to find a student assistant whom the family could pay to attend class with Schaaf, Evans said. The family members agreed and were told SOU would contact them once candidates were found, Evans said.
Instead, the family received the notice that Schaaf had been withdrawn, Evans said.
Jon Eldridge, SOU vice president of student affairs, said federal law prohibits him from discussing Schaaf's case.
However, he said the university provides accommodations for 400 students with physical and mental disabilities and complies fully with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"We provide accommodation as long as it doesn't call for a fundamental alteration of the course and the student can perform at the college level," Eldridge said.
Schaaf's parents said they plan to file a formal appeal of the decision.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail email@example.com.