The University of Hawaii Manoa violated federal law by overcharging disabled students for dorms, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Disabled students, who may require special accommodations such as single occupancy rooms, paid the standard room rate though they should not have been charged extra to accommodate their medical needs, according to a letter sent to the university by the DOE Office of Civil Rights.

The university refunded more than 40 students a total of about $100,000 for unnecessary dorm charges over the past two school years, according to UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. That’s an average of $2,400 per student.

A sign at UH Manoa’s Gartley Hall points to a wheelchair-accessible entrance.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The university’s housing policies at that time also required disabled students who needed air conditioned rooms to pay for the installation, usage and subsequent removal of the air conditioner, the Office of Civil Rights wrote. Those policies have since been changed, according to the letter.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that schools receiving federal dollars make “reasonable” modifications to practices or policies to avoid discriminating against disabled students. Their housing must be comparable — and provided at the same cost — as housing for non-disabled students.

UH was required to update its policies on housing disabled students in accordance with ADA and refund affected students who lived in dorms during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Sixty university dorm residents currently receive ADA accommodations on the Manoa campus, Meisenzahl said. About 4,000 students live in the dorms.

UH had “no intention to discriminate against anybody, but we’re happy to take the appropriate actions, absolutely,” he said.

The Office of Civil Rights resolved the ADA complaint against UH Manoa in September. Last month, the same federal office resolved a separate review of the university in which investigators found it had mishandled sexual harassment complaints.

Louis Erteschik, attorney and director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center, said the complaint against UH didn’t seem particularly “outrageous” compared to others his organization sees.

Erteschik said he hadn’t heard of any complaints about UH Manoa dorms, but said it was “commendable” that the university stepped up to take corrective action.

View the OCR resolution letter to UH Manoa and their agreement below:

About the Author