CMC in Aspen hit with discrimination complaint

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Channing Seideman

ASPEN – A formal discrimination complaint against Colorado Mountain College, which asks the school to place three faculty members on leave during an investigation into a recent incident, is now in the school’s hands.

Aspen resident Channing Seideman, who has epilepsy, claims that certain CMC faculty members inappropriately handled a seizure she had during class. According to the complaint, Seideman had a seizure during an EMT class on Sept. 13, prompting CMC to email her that it is “reaching the decision point of the seizures becoming too distractive for the circumstance of learning – which is where the college is allowed to ask a student to drop.” The seizure was the second Seideman had in three semesters at CMC’s Aspen campus.

A subsequent meeting with three CMC administrators – in which Seideman says that all in attendance “defended” the school’s course of action – led the 18-year-old to believe that there might be “a discriminatory mentality within the [Disability Services] department,” according to Channing’s complaint form.

She is asking that instructor Bryce Halverson, disability services coordinator Anne Moll and her supervisor, assistant dean of student services Lisa Doak, be placed on leave while an investigation is conducted; if a “discriminatory mentality is found to exist,” Seideman requests that the three faculty members, along with assistant vice president of student affairs Mark McCabe and Aspen campus vice president Joseph Maestas, be “terminated from their positions, and replaced with personnel who will advocate for students with disabilities.”

Though it’s not cited in her complaint, Seideman has referred to a portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act that states: “Practically every postsecondary school must have a person – frequently called the Section 504 Coordinator, ADA Coordinator, or Disability Services Coordinator – who coordinates the school’s compliance with Section 504 or Title II or both laws.”

At CMC, that person is Moll. In the estimation of Seideman father, Rob, “It just doesn’t seem like Anne Moll is coordinating the school’s compliance. It appears instead that she’s taking the opposite role, siding with instructor against the student.”

Brad Bankhead, vice president of student affairs for CMC, acknowledged receipt of the complaint but would not comment further, citing federal privacy laws.

“We care about all of our students, their learning and safety needs, and the quality of education they receive,” CMC spokeswoman Debbie Crawford said via email. “As explained in the handbook, our students are encouraged to resolve issues or concerns through the informal process, to come to a resolution that is agreeable to both the student and the college.”

In this case, however, a resolution was not achieved, and the formal complaint process was initiated. It is not exactly clear, however, how that process will play out.

According to the CMC student handbook, “The Campus CEO or designee establishes the investigation and hearing process including timelines and notifies the complainant and respondent thereof.” The Seidemans have received no further information about the process; CMC officials said they would mail a written response to the complaint within 10 working days.

Regardless, the Seidemans plan to pursue other avenues in their quest to hold CMC accountable for its actions and to protect other disabled students from discrimination, including filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights with assistance from the Epilepsy Legal Defense Fund.

“Our goal isn’t to demonize CMC, but we think it’s clear that they need to change the mentality of some people there,” Rob Seideman said after his daughter decided to file the formal complaint. “We just wanted them to take responsibility and apologize, and we don’t feel like they did.

“So now we need to know what steps they’re going to take to create change. I truly hope that with a little pressure, we can help make that happen.”

This complaint against CMC’s Disabilities Services Department and Moll is not the first. Former CMC student Katie Howlin, who now attends Columbia University, told The Aspen Times she logged a similar, albeit informal, complaint in August; she says she did not know of the formal complaint process but said Wednesday she would have done so “in a heartbeat” if she knew it was an option.

Howlin, who suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), claims that her first two semesters at CMC were riddled with problems stemming from a lack of professionalism within the Disability Services Department. She said accommodations required by law, such as private testing and extended time on assignments, were either not offered to her or required her to “jump through hoops” to make happen.

“The department did not act as an advocate for me in any fashion,” she said by phone from New York, where she is now studying neuroscience at Columbia University. “It was very discouraging; in fact, I failed at my first two semesters there.”

Howlin said she ultimately succeeded at CMC, and moved ahead in her academic career, thanks to her family, friends and several professors at the college.

“It was such a shame about what happened at first, because with the right support – there were so many individual professors who were wonderful to me – I was a success,” she said, adding that her experience with Columbia’s Disability Services Department has been the opposite of that at CMC. “I can see now what is possible; that it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

“That is what disability services is all about: making things possible.”

Seideman and Howlin agree that there is a disconnect at CMC that needs to be addressed, and both women say their motive in sharing their story is simple: “I want to make this path a little easier for other people with ADHD and disabilities,” said Howlin. “If the people the school has in place are incapable of providing assistance and support to students in need – like Dr. Moll – they need to be replaced with people who can do this.

“I just hope that no one else has to go though what I went through, because, to be honest, I think a lot of people with disabilities would just drop out.”

Seideman agreed.

“The situation made me want to be completely isolated … to just sit back in my room and forget about going to college,” she said last week. “But I’ve had to pave the way for others with disabilities before, so I can do this.”

CMC officials would not comment on Howlin’s allegations, citing federal privacy laws, nor would they say if other informal or formal complaints about the school’s Disability Services Department have been received.