A student has sued Liberty University, alleging the school put students at 'severe physical risk of COVID-19 contagion'

Reuters/Jonathan DrakeLiberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., attends the school’s commencement ceremonies in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., May 11, 2019.
  • A student has sued Liberty University over keeping campus open during the coronavirus pandemic, but scaling back on-campus services and refusing to refund students for fees and room and board.
  • The student, identified only as “Student A,” alleged that the school put students at “severe physical risk of COVID-19 contagion” and made “extremely dangerous and irresponsible” decisions.
  • The school’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., was fiercely criticised in March after minimising the threat of the coronavirus and suggesting people were “overreacting” to try to make President Donald Trump look bad.
  • Liberty University told Insider in a statement that Student A’s attorneys were trying to “profit from a public health crisis,” adding that the lawsuit was “without legal merit.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A student has anonymously filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Liberty University, the private evangelical college that has garnered criticism after its president downplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus and kept campus open.

The student, identified only as “Student A” in federal court documents, alleged that the school and its president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., not only put students at “severe physical risk of COVID-19 contagion,” but also shut down most on-campus services without refunding students for their fees.

Falwell was fiercely criticised in late March after keeping campus open for students to return after spring break. Hundreds of colleges across the country, meanwhile, closed theirs, moved classes online, and in some cases refunded room and boarding fees.

Falwell has made a number of comments minimising the threat of coronavirus, accusing some of “overreacting” in a possible attempt to make President Donald Trump look bad. He also baselessly suggested coronavirus was a “Christmas present” from North Korea.

Liberty UniversityLiberty University main residence hall

Liberty University’s campus technically remains open to students, but the school has dramatically scaled back its on-campus services, moved classes online, delayed commencement, and cancelled many student activities.

Student A’s lawsuit alleges that the school’s decision to keep all tuition and fees isn’t fair to students who paid for services they can’t access, and those who chose to leave campus for health and safety reasons.

“Liberty’s decision to tell its students that they could remain on campus to continue using their housing, meal plans, parking, and the benefits of the services and activities for which their fees paid, was not only illusory and empty – because there were no more on-campus classes – but it was also extremely dangerous and irresponsible,” the lawsuit said.

Liberty University says Student A’s attorneys are trying to ‘profit from a public health crisis’

The lawsuit also accused the school of stifling dissent, citing Falwell’s March 15 tweet calling a parent a “dummy” for complaining that students could pick up the virus on campus and potentially pass it to elderly relatives when they returned home for the summer.

In a statement to Insider, Liberty University representatives accused Student A’s attorneys of trying to “profit from a public health crisis” and said the lawsuit was “without legal merit.”

“Each of Liberty’s changes in operations and modes of delivery has been required by governmental officials, a fact the complaint omits,” the statement said. “That fact legally excuses Liberty’s adjustments and leaves the plaintiffs without a legal case.”

The school also said it was maintaining and “frequently sanitizing” the campus for the students who remained there.

Liberty University is giving out $US1,000 in credit to those students who chose to move out of residence halls, but the lawsuit alleged that the credit applies to their Fall 2020 fees, and will therefore not be given to students who don’t return to campus.

“For all practical purposes, students who were living on Liberty’s campus have been forced to make the difficult decision of whether to stay on or return to a campus that has effectively been shut down, or to move home and sacrifice the amounts they have paid for room and board and other campus fees,” the lawsuit said.

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