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A $4.5 million settlement will reimburse fees for online learning during the spring 2020 semester. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

A $4.5 million settlement will officially be distributed to some Penn students for online learning fees charged during the spring 2020 semester.

On Jan. 19, a court granted final approval to a settlement of a class action lawsuit against Penn, according to the Penn Covid Refund Settlement website. The settlement addressed claims of a breach of contract by Penn for fees imposed during the remote learning transition at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In return, Penn and the lawsuit's plaintiffs agreed to a partial refund of tuition and fees for all students who participated in a transition to online learning during the spring 2020 semester. 

Students enrolled in the University in a course that was not originally meant to be online before March 17, 2020, are considered “Settlement Class Members” affected by the lawsuit. These class members are eligible for reimbursement and do not need to do anything to receive the settlement. If no appeals are filed before Feb. 21, then distribution of funds will occur in April 2023. 

The lawsuit's plaintiffs also alleged that “Penn’s shift to remote learning gave rise to claims of unjust enrichment and conversion,” according to the lawsuit website. The court had previously dismissed the plaintiff's accounts in April 2022, but one of the plaintiff's claims was resolved based on a “fee-based breach of contract.” 

Penn had previously not been found guilty of any liability on court and denied all allegations. The University notified some students of the initial settlement proposal in November 2022, in which it cited the "interest of both Penn and its students in prompt resolution of the matter." 

In response to a request for comment, a University Spokesperson directed The Daily Pennsylvanian to the updated version of the notice of proposed class action settlement

Class Board 2023 President Derek Nhieu told the DP in November that he agreed that Penn should not have charged additional fees for the spring 2020 semester. 

"If we ever transition online again, those fees are just not applicable. I feel like [the fees] are very much a disservice to students, when you try to charge them for these types of things," Nhieu said. 

Nhieu said that he received a letter in the mail detailing the class action lawsuit. Although he said he was happy that money would be refunded, he hoped that the proposed settlement had been more informative. 

The refund of fees for impacted students who are still at Penn will be delivered directly to their student accounts as early as April 2023. Non-continuing students will receive a mailed check or digital payment if requested. Individuals who had opted out before the deadline of Dec. 19 will not receive a settlement.