Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Federal Magistrate Judge Approves New Rules to Assist Disabled LSAT Takers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A federal jurist has largely upheld a set of procedures intended to make it easier for people with disabilities to qualify for accommodations when taking the Law School Admission Test.
Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Friday issued a 44-page opinion validating nearly all of an expert panel’s recommended changes to the way the Law School Admission Council weighs requests for accommodations.
The LSAC last year settled a lawsuit brought by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the federal Department of Justice. The agreement gave final resolution to some issues, while committing the others to the panel, which was appointed jointly by the parties.
The district court reserved jurisdiction over the five-member panel’s recommendations, and the parties recently stipulated that Spero could rule on them.
Among the changes:
•Automatic review by an outside expert when the council denies requests;
•Allowing submission of medical documentation dating to when the test taker was 13 years old, in certain cases; and
•Requiring different levels of supporting documentation depending on the accommodations sought.
The panel issued its recommendations in January, concluding that the council’s documentation requirements were excessive for most candidates and exceeded those of other standardized testing entities.
The council appealed the bulk of the report in court in March, arguing that the recommendations went beyond the panel’s mandate. Spero, however, ruled that most of the recommendations were consistent with the settlement agreement.
“Judge Spero’s decision was well-reasoned and reflected a great deal of thought,” Ruth Colker, a professor at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law who served on the panel, told the National Law Journal, which reported on the decision on its website. “I thought it was a wonderfully written decision.”
A council spokeswoman declined to comment on the ruling, the NLJ reported.
Spero rejected several minor recommendations. For instance, he said, the council does not have to accept evidence that is more than five years old in support of a claim of mental or cognitive impairment—the current standard is three years—council staff who review accommodations don’t have to complete their reviews within two business days; and the council doesn’t have to allow a Justice Department representative to help train the staff who review accommodation requests.
L. Scott Lissner, past president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability and Americans With Disabilities Act coordinator at Ohio State University, told the NLJ that Spero’s ruling would save many LSAT candidates money they would otherwise spend on medical consultations, and add transparency to the accommodation process.
The council receives approximately 2,000 requests for LSAT accommodations each year, about half of which are granted in some form, the NLJ reported. Learning disorders are the most common disabilities cited, although accommodations are also given for hearing or visual impairments and other physical disabilities.
“Between the consent decree and Judge Spero’s ruling, there are some baseline assumptions it sets in terms of cognitive disabilities,” Lissner said. “There’s now an expectation that 50 percent extra time is a reasonable accommodation for learning disabilities, and I think that’s helpful. It sets a benchmark.”
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