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N.Y.U. Bans Admission of Disabled Student Who Missed Orientation

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New York University officials and the family of a learning-disabled 17-year-old are engaged in a lawsuit over whether a student can be required to participate in a support program he says he does not need.

The case, which is pending in a New York City federal court, involves Justin Fruth of Indianapolis, a teenager whose accomplishments include studying acting in England and scaling Mount Rainier.

Mr. Fruth has a disability that causes him problems in reading and writing. He took the special S.A.T.'s for learning-disabled students last fall and did reasonably well, achieving a combined score of 1,140. University officials, overlooking a high school grade average that was slighly below N.Y.U.'s standards, agreed in March to admit Mr. Fruth, provided that he participate in a support program for learning-disabled students.

One requirement of the program is participation in a weeklong orientation session, held at the college in July at a cost of $750. But Mr. Fruth spent the summer immersed in a demanding, six-week, film-production program at N.Y.U. and skipped the orientation. The university, over the Fruth family's protests, withdrew his admission.

In their lawsuit, the Fruths contend that the university's actions violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals.

University officials, however, argued in court that there was no discrimination. They said Mr. Fruth had not held up his end of a bargain.

University Wins Round One

U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, who heard the pretrial arguments, has thus far sided with N.Y.U. On Aug. 17, she denied the family's request for a preliminary injunction barring the school from withdrawing Mr. Fruth's admission.

"In this court's view, the university's determinations were well within the institution's professional judgment and do not represent a substantial or any departure from the accepted academic norm,'' she said.

Colleges and universities are entitled to choose their students, she said. Because of his C grade average, Mr. Fruth did not have to be admitted at all, she added.

Rosemary Fruth, Justin Fruth's mother, said last week that the family was still reviewing the ruling.

Ms. Fruth, who is a lawyer, said N.Y.U.'s actions were discriminatory on two counts: They imposed a requirement on learning-disabled students that nondisabled students were not expected to meet, and they failed to take into account the individual needs of disabled students.

She said her son did not need the orientation because he learned to cope with his disability when he was diagnosed with it in the 3rd grade. He buys recorded books, requires extra time on exams, and writes on word processors.

At the private, college-preparatory school he attended, he received no special education.

"He's not like another 17-year-old because of his lifestyle and the experiences he's had,'' she said.

Judge Preska said, however, that by reviewing Mr. Fruth's request to exempt him from the orientation, N.Y.U. had indeed given him individual consideration.

Moreover, she said, the setback is temporary. She suggested that Mr. Fruth use the delay in entering college to "further his professional portfolio by pursuing acting engagements as he has in the past.''

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