CMC’s response to disability shocks student from Aspen | AspenTimes.com

CMC’s response to disability shocks student from Aspen

Published: Rustin Gudim/Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN – An Aspen resident with epilepsy plans to file a formal complaint against Colorado Mountain College for conduct that she and her family believe constitutes discrimination.

“I don’t even know how to describe how I felt; I was devastated,” Channing Seideman said Wednesday, one day after meeting with CMC representatives regarding their response to a seizure she had in class. “It made me want to be completely isolated … to just sit back in my room and forget about going to college.

“I am shocked, really.”

Seideman, who was raised in Aspen and attended the public schools, was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 10. While she has suffered from seizures ever since, she has adapted her life – graduating high school, competing in horse jumping, coaching with AVSC, volunteering with the Shining Stars Foundation and receiving her first-responder designation from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department. Epilepsy did not stop the 18-year-old from thriving, and she seldom felt discriminated against, her father said.

“We’ve never faced a situation like this,” Rob Seideman said. “It’s always been Team Channing – that’s what we call the community because so many people have been behind her for so long.

“We’ve always been able to work with people to understand her disability.”

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But during a recent EMT class at CMC, for which she received a full scholarship, the Seidemans say that changed.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, Channing suffered a seizure in class. Her parents were called 40 minutes later to pick her up. Rob said that when they arrived, “class was under way and Channing was seated and participating.”

When she went to the next class, nothing seemed amiss.

“I showed up, no one said anything about it to me, and I [felt] comfortable in class. I feel fine with doing a little presentation in class explaining my dog, story, epilepsy, etc., and leave it at that. I’ve had seizures in school before and don’t see the need to make a big deal out of it,” Channing wrote in an email to CMC’s disability services coordinator, Anne Moll, who had asked to discuss “the situation and the class” with Channing.

The Seidemans believed the situation was resolved. As her email stated, Channing had indeed had seizures in school before – including a more severe one the previous semester at CMC. And all who came in contact with her knew of her disability (she distributed cards explaining her condition), she has a service dog at her side at all times and had met with Moll before classes began.

But the next day, Channing received another email from Moll. It is this exchange – which the Seidemans released to The Aspen Times – that they believe was discriminatory.

In it, Moll states “the instructor and supervisor they both indicated that they do not feel this is an appropriate class for you at this time.”

When Rob Seideman pressed her about what precipitated the email, Moll relayed that the class instructor said, “Yes, it was just the one seizure, but there could be more, and they could be a distraction to him teaching.”

“You say you allow students with epilepsy to attend classes. By definition, if you have epilepsy you’re going to have seizures,” Channing said. “Just keep your word, please.”

Colorado Mountain College would not comment on the incident, the email exchange, nor Channing’s situation, except to confirm when she was enrolled in the college. Spokeswoman Debbie Crawford said, “We do have a formal complaint procedure, and she may choose to follow that. Beyond this, I am not able to comment.”

Channing confirmed Wednesday that she will file a formal complaint. She wishes she did not have to take such an action, however.

“I was not going to go there; there was no reason for any of this to happen. … I do not see where the problem was or is,” she said. “But I’ve had to pave the way for others with disabilities before, so I can do this.”

Rob Seideman said his chief concern in filing the complaint is, in fact, CMC’s actions and its effects on the greater disabled community.

A Google search reveals dozens of colleges with policies that state: “Disruption of Other Students: Instructors should only invoke this ‘undue hardship’ clause after having attempted reasonable accommodations in the classroom, or in cases of extreme student behavior. For example, a student with epilepsy cannot be automatically excluded from a class because the instructor fears that a disruption (e.g., a grand mal seizure) may occur during class. However, if this student is enrolled in a class and does experience grand mal seizures in class on a regular basis, the instructor may have a case for claiming ‘undue hardship’ on the basis of disruption.”

CMC also has a section of its handbook dedicated to ADA regulations and services for the disabled.

The Seidemans believe the college paid little regard to these guidelines in the current situation. They said the tone of the email exchange with Moll and the roundtable discussion on Tuesday – in which Rob claims school administrators accepted no responsibility for the situation and merely defended their own – made clear what they thought.

“It’s mind-blowing, but I sensed a complete unwillingness to even try and work with Channing,” he said. “Channing accepts her limitations, and she works within them, but it feels like CMC narrowed those limitations by basically asking her to leave the class.”

It is the Seidemans’ hope that by holding the school accountable for how Channing was treated, others won’t go through the same trauma.

“My initial fear was that Channing would not want to ever enroll again in a college class for fear that she will have another seizure and be asked to drop the class,” explained Rob, adding that CMC Vice President of Student Affairs Brad Bankhead, who will serve as the single liaison between Channing and CMC, did personally visit his daughter – with positive results.

“He was the only one who came to me with a sincere apology; I think he understood where I was coming from,” Channing said, wondering why others would not advocate for her as they are supposed to. “I just want to be sure everyone understands … for me and other people in my situation.”

Her father agreed.

“Our goal isn’t to demonize CMC, but we think it’s clear that they need to change the mentality of some people there,” he said. “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.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com