Parent of George Washington University student sues, says online classes inferior

The father of a student at George Washington University has filed a federal class-action lawsuit, claiming the school’s closure during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in less-rigorous online tuition, and deprived her of other aspects of college life.

Mark Shaffer’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks reimbursement for tuition, room and board, and other fees he paid at GW, where a semester typically costs more than $25,000.

As cases of the novel coronavirus spread, the university began closing its campus in mid-March. By March 16, all on-campus events were canceled for the remainder of the semester.

“Despite sending students home and closing its campus, G.W. continues to charge for tuition and fees as if nothing has changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students,” according to the suit.

While students enrolled and paid for a comprehensive academic experience, the suit alleges they have received far less: “A limited online experience presented by Google or Zoom, void of face-to-face faculty and peer interaction.”

The suit said Shaffer’s daughter, and other students affected by the campus closure, have been deprived of in-person office hours with professors, involvement in student clubs and access to laboratory equipment, an experience which they “did not bargain for.”

The suit also accuses the university of engaging in breach of contract, unjust enrichment and conversion, or unlawfully keeping tuition, despite the shift to online classes.

“G.W. knows this is not how our students expected to complete their classes this spring,” said Crystal Nosal, a spokeswoman for G.W. “While our classes usually meet in person, sometimes they do not. And in these extraordinary circumstances, they cannot.”

Nosal added that the university has applied credit to student accounts for the nightly rate of their dorms from late march to the end of the semester, and that students can request a reimbursement of dining plan funds, parking permit fees and international programs impacted by the shutdown.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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