CMC making changes after Aspen discrimination complaint

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Channing Seideman

ASPEN – Colorado Mountain College officials say they have modified the training they require of all faculty to include an emphasis on how to handle a situation if a student were to have a seizure in class.

The new training guidelines – which will go into effect this summer – are the result of a formal complaint against the school filed by former CMC student Channing Seideman following an incident in September.

“When a situation occurs like it did with Channing, the college has a practice of reviewing its processes to see how we are doing and where we need to be making changes,” said Mark McCabe, assistant vice president of student affairs. “What we found, in this case, is that we need to improve how we share information with our faculty.”

McCabe noted that CMC has 11 sites in six counties, so new faculty is constantly being hired and trained. Now, that training includes an emphasis on seizures.

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 emergency medical technician 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.

The 13-page response to the formal complaint was the result of an internal investigation into the matter. Brad Bankhead, vice president of student affairs for CMC, handled the investigation, concluding that there was no discrimination and that nobody involved should be reprimanded.

However, Bankhead did admit to having “some concerns that CMC should address in the area of disability accommodation.”

In the report, Bankhead outlined four steps the college will make to improve the way it accommodates students with disabilities, including: mandatory training for adjunct faculty on how to interact with students with disabilities; clarifying college publications to include language to provide “sufficient definition for all students and faculty in demonstrating ‘an atmosphere conducive to the pursuit of learning;'” creating a clear policy for handling situations when no “reasonable accommodation” can be found; and adding a detailed formal complaint procedure to its student handbook.

According to McCabe, the college has launched a training module on working with students with disabilities with an emphasis on, and greater detail about, seizures.

The change, he said, was made with input from experts on the subject of seizures.

“Everyone we talked to said that our practice is great, but that we needed to make it more public, and that’s what we’re doing,” McCabe said. “What we learned from Channing is that we had to do a better job of making sure people know what to do if this situation occurs on their campus.”

McCabe said that while there is no formal way to measure compliance on behalf of the faculty, he is confident the new training module will be effective.

“I can’t tell you that 100 percent of our faculty will learn and follow the guidelines, but I can tell you that each of our campus disability coordinators have been working hard to ensure that faculty are trained,” he said. “We have taken this very seriously.”

With regard to the other recommendations put forth in the complaint response, McCabe said the college is making progress. He said language has been updated in both faculty and student handbooks with regard to disability services. And, he said that while college officials always strive to create “reasonable accommodations” for students with disabilities, it has learned from the experience with Seideman.

“I believe that when we reviewed our policy, as well as our practices, we found we try to work with students to find reasonable solutions,” he said. “But it’s a fluid process; we continue to learn about how best to serve our students.”