College, Student Settle Mental Health Lawsuit

WASHINGTON

A former student who was barred from the campus of George Washington University and threatened with expulsion after checking into a hospital with depression has settled a lawsuit with the college, both sides announced Tuesday.

The school told Jordan Nott that his 2004 hospitalization violated the school’s code of conduct because it demonstrated dangerous behavior. He says he hadn’t tried to kill himself before the hospitalization, but had been thinking about it because of the suicide of another GW student.

Nott was barred from campus and threatened with suspension or expulsion unless he withdrew. He decided not to fight the charges and transferred to another school a few months later.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. University officials say they are reviewing and revising their policies on involuntary mental health withdrawal and hope to have a new plan in place by the end of the semester.

“Currently, the way we handle involuntary withdrawals is a judicial one,” said university spokeswoman Tracy Schario. “We’re looking at how to make it an administrative process.”

Karen Bower of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which represented Nott, says the group was pleased the university is considering changes.

“It is important that any policy provide for individualized determinations of whether a student can remain on campus based on an objective medical evaluation after discharge from a hospital, without rigid rules based solely upon the fact of hospitalization,” she says.

Schario says most GW students dealing with depression are not forced to withdraw.

“It’s an extraordinary circumstance where it’s an involuntary situation,” she says. “Our student health center helps hundreds of students, many of whom are depressed.”

Schools nationwide are facing legal challenges on how they handle students’ mental health problems.

Hunter College, part of the City University of New York system, announced in August that it was abandoning its three-year-old policy to evict dormitory residents who attempt suicide as part of a settlement with a student who sued the school.

The Bazelon Center is also representing a student at a Connecticut boarding school who was placed on a mandatory leave after seeking treatment for depression.

— Associated Press



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