CDI College terminates concussed student for 5 absences

A student at the Career Development Institute College in Edmonton says she's worried she may have to pay a $20,000 tuition a second time after a head injury caused her to miss classes.

Student Abby Carrothers says she was blindsided

Abby Carrothers was set to graduate the dental assisting program at CDI College next winter, but says she was terminated from the program after missing multiple classes due to a concussion. (Sam Martin/CBC)

A student at the Career Development Institute College in Edmonton says she's worried she may have to pay a $20,000 tuition a second time after a head injury caused her to miss classes.

Abby Carrothers started the dental assisting program in March, and was set to graduate the 11-month program by next February.

But when she missed classes due to a concussion, she was terminated from the program.

Carrothers said in order to complete her courses, she was told by the campus director she needed to re-enrol in the program and pay another $20,000 in tuition fees.

In a statement emailed to CBC News on Thursday, CDI College said it is "currently working with this student to seek a mutually-agreed upon resolution, with the goal of the student successfully completing with no financial penalty."

"As with any college, we are restricted from sharing specifics about our students due to privacy considerations," the statement reads. 

'Her recovery will take weeks'

Carrothers said she got a concussion while tubing with her family on Aug. 4.

"It was a freak accident. We just happened to hit a low kind of wave and I got chucked off of it, and I literally toppled over. I remember smacking my head to the side," she said.

"I don't remember how I got out of the water. I don't remember how I got back to the campsite."

Carrothers said she stayed home and didn't go to school for three days, from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7. She went to see her doctor and got a note, which says she suffered a concussion. 

Carrothers said she returned to school on Thursday, Aug. 8, but left early because of a headache. 

A day later, Carrothers got another doctor's note.

"[She needs] a very slow and gradual return to her regular activities, including school," the note reads. "It is likely that her recovery will take weeks." 

Carrothers sent the note to her instructor, who sent a text telling her to take care of herself.

Allowable days of missed classes 

Carrothers said she met with Tiffaney Bodnariuk, the campus director for CDI College Edmonton City Centre on Aug. 15.

Bodnariuk told Carrothers she could stay in the program as long as she got a doctor's note saying she could attend class, Carrothers said.

So, she got a third doctor's note.

"She is able to attend her courses as her symptoms allow," it reads. "Should the symptoms flare, she should rest/take a break/go home as she sees fit." 

A CDI College location at 47th Street and 52nd Avenue in Edmonton. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

After submitting the third note, Carrothers said she got an email from Bodnariuk. It said that because the doctor's note does not state she's cleared to be in class full-time, the school has to move forward with her termination. 

Bodnariuk's email says Carrothers surpassed the allowable days of missed classes and because she's unable to stay in class for full days, the school can't allow her to continue her studies. 

Policy in student handbook

Before starting classes, Carrothers signed the college's student handbook for the dental assisting program.

In it, the attendance policy says students who are absent for three days will be placed on probation and be required to attend an interview with the department head or campus director. 

"If a student is unable to attend class for five consecutive days, regardless of the reason for the absence, he/she will be terminated from the dental assisting program," the policy states. 

Carrothers said she was never put on probation. She said she was told that in order to complete her studies, she has to restart the program because none of her courses are transferable.

    "They said 'no, your courses are not transferable.' I'm like, what do you mean they're not transferable? I'd be going to the same school with the same class, with the same teachers," she said.

    Re-enrolling would require another $20,000 in tuition fees.

    "I don't want to have to pay for it again. I don't want to have to do the workload over again. I worked so hard. Those are my marks. I earned them," Carrothers said.

    "I understood their handbook and that's why I was proactive with this at the start. And if they had a problem with it, they should have told me."

    Duty to accommodate 

    Linda McKay-Panos, executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, said according to the Alberta Human Rights Act, all private colleges have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of "undue hardship." 

    "There certainly are examples of cases where a head injury was considered a temporary disability," McKay-Panos said. 

    "Undue hardship ... are things like the accommodation is not feasible, it might be expensive, it might interfere with the rights of other students."

    Nancy Henderson, executive director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, said generally, private institutions have the same duties as public institutions to accommodate students with disabilities, which can include students with medical conditions.

    Henderson said, the point of making accommodations is to "to address the barriers that individuals may experience from having equal rights in their educational experience." 

    Private colleges in Alberta are regulated under the Private Vocational Training Act, which requires them to have an attendance policy and an internal complaints resolution policy and process. 

    Carrothers said she contacted the college's compliance and campus support team. In a confidential letter she shared with CBC News, the compliance branch said the dismissal is being upheld. 

    In an emailed statement, Advanced Education spokesperson Laurie Chandler said after going through the school's internal complaint process, students can connect with the province's private career college branch.

    "Advanced Education conducts compliance reviews at private institutions on an ongoing basis to examine compliance with the requirements of the Private Vocational Training Act and regulation," Chandler wrote.

    In regards to Carrothers' case, Chandler said "the department will consider this experience as we continue to work with the college on ongoing compliance matters." 

    Carrothers said she has connected with a lawyer, who will contact the college on Monday.


    Peggy Lam


    Peggy is a reporter for CBC News, based in Vancouver. She's interested in stories about medicine, health care and accountability. She has a master's degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in human geography. You can reach her at peggy.lam@cbc.ca


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