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Student sues BYU, saying move to online classes offered ‘subpar’ education

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The entrance sign to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The entrance sign to Brigham Young University in Provo.

Nate Edwards

PROVO — A Brigham Young University student sued the private school Wednesday, claiming he didn’t get what he paid for when the campus was closed and classes were moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chase Hiatt, an undergraduate during the winter and spring 2020 semesters and who enrolled for classes this fall, claims in the federal lawsuit that the online learning options offered at BYU are “subpar” compared to the educational experience provided before classes were suspended in March.

While Hiatt is currently the only plaintiff in the case, his attorney, Michael Watton, is looking to make it a class-action suit.

“In short, plaintiffs and the members of the class have paid for tuition for a first-rate education and an on-campus, in-person educational experience, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate university, and were provided a materially deficient and insufficient alternative, which alternative constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into by plaintiffs and the class with the university,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

BYU priced the tuition and mandatory fees based on the in-person educational services, opportunities and experiences it was providing on campus, according to the suit. Claims in the lawsuit include breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

BYU has not seen the lawsuit, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Wednesday.

Hiatt, of Bountiful, is entitled to a pro-rated refund for tuition and fees for the remaining days of winter semester after classes moved from in-person to online and campus facilities were closed, according to the suit. He paid $2,895 in tuition and fees for winter semester and $1,200 for spring. He expects to graduate next June.

BYU announced in July that it would offer a hybrid of in-person and remote classes for fall semester starting Aug 31.

The school mostly used previously recorded lectures posted online for students to view on their own or in virtual Zoom meetings in winter and spring semesters, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that students were deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback and critique.

The online formats do not require memorization or the development of strong study skills given the absence of any possibility of being called on in class and the ability to consult books and other materials when taking exams, the lawsuit says.

Also, the ability to receive a pass/no pass grade rather than a letter grade provides “educational leniency” that the students would not otherwise have with an in-person letter grading education that students paid for and expected, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendant’s practice of failing to provide reimbursements for tuition and mandatory fees despite the diminished value of the education and other experiences that it provided, and the reduced benefits associated with the fees, as alleged herein, violates generally accepted principles of business conduct,” according to the lawsuit.