Anushay Sheikh, a student who deferred acceptance to U of T law, is filing a human rights claim through the Ontario Human Rights Commission against the university. The claim, which The Varsity has obtained a copy of, asserts that the university is unwilling to accommodate students and offer remote options for attending classes via Zoom.
In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote that they could not provide comment due to the case being active and its privacy limitations.
A number of student organizations have recently been speaking out in favour of more hybrid options, arguing that there are accessibility barriers to returning in person.
Although Sheikh began their first year of law school in August 2021, they decided to delay their degree until fall 2022 and are not currently enrolled at U of T. In order to hold their spot at the university, the administration also required them to sign a letter promising that they would not apply to other law schools.
Sheikh filed their claim after engaging with administration and Accessibility Services on accommodations to their education for five months due to health challenges. In an interview with The Varsity, Sheikh explained that their professors wanted to provide online learning options and were accommodating. However, in Sheikh’s claim, they allege that the Faculty of Law only allowed distribution of classes’ Zoom links as a part of the faculty’s emergency COVID-19 response, due to the faculty’s emphasis on in-person learning, so Sheikh could not obtain Zoom links for their courses.
“Even though Zoom links were available for all of my classes in the fall of 2021, the Faculty refused to provide them to me. It cited as its reason a policy that in-person learning was an ‘essential’ part of the educational experience, a rule it has been prepared to treat flexibly in other contexts, but not for students with disabilities like me,” reads the claim.
Sheikh’s tweets about the case have gained traction, with groups like the U of T Law Union endorsing them.
Sheikh noted that the pandemic has provided the university with an opportunity regarding accessibility. “For the first time, during the pandemic, people with different accessibility needs were able to access learning styles that weren’t exclusively in person,” Sheikh elaborated.
They added that having those options revoked during a new stage of the pandemic has exposed inequities in the postsecondary education system. Although many people would like to return to in-person classes, many student groups see remote learning as an option that should always be available to the students who need it.