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Why this aspiring nursing student is asking Cincinnati State to change some rules

Justine Jones speaks with WCPO while sitting in the wheelchair she uses for mobility due to spina bifida.
Posted at 2:11 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 21:33:26-04

CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati woman said she has been struggling to get into Cincinnati State’s nursing program due to some of the requirements for its students.

Justine Jones has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, which creates an obstacle for her to meet the college's rule that nursing students must be registered as State Tested Nursing Assistants. Ohio requires those individuals to be able to lift 25 pounds. Now, she's petitioning the college to change its requirements.

“It was definitely heartbreaking when they told me no the first time,” Jones said. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital so much, I was just, like, this is what I want to do. I want to give this care to patients."

She said Cincinnati State’s two-year program is her quickest and most affordable pathway toward a nursing career in the area.

“Nursing is so broad that not every nurse is going to be at a patient’s bedside trying to help them get out of bed,” said Jones. “I can be in a doctor’s office or a case manager for people with disabilities.”

University of Cincinnati Blue Ash, for example, does not require the state-tested status. However, the UC Blue Ash Nursing Department requires students to have the ability to perform certain physical functions. According to the student handbook, "The student must be able to safely and competently push, pull, lift and transfer adult and pediatric patients to chair, commode or other locations, as well as operate health-related equipment."

A spokesperson told WCPO UC Blue Ash College has an essential functions form that must be signed by a health care provider to ensure the student can provide safe competent care. The student is required to have a physical exam before they start the program, annually while in the program, along with immunizations, etc.

The physical should indicate that the student can complete the tasks on the essential functions form -- tasks like administering CPR, medications, and operation medical equipment, among others. If they cannot complete all tasks listed, UC Blue Ash College said it works with the UC Accessibility Resources office and clinical partners to see what accommodations we can provide.

Southern State Community College also requires nursing students to meet physical requirements. The student handbook says students often must carry objects weighing 25-50 pounds.

Cincinnati attorney Richard Goldberg says a public school receiving public funds could face a lawsuit if it is found to discriminate based on disabilities.

“She could ask for lost wages, lost future wages and attorney fees,” said Goldberg.

Cincinnati State responded to Jones’ concern in a written statement:

"Cincinnati State cannot comment on any individual student's situation out of respect for the student's privacy and as required by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In general, for every educational accommodation requested, the college undertakes a deliberative process to determine whether an accommodation to a course or program can be made in light of the competencies and skills expected of the field, such as in nursing, culinary, IT, welding, etc."

Jones already works for a hospital in scheduling and said she'll find out Monday if Cincinnati State accepts her. She e-mails with WCPO in which staff point to the policy and accommodations that must be considered.

“Even if I don't get into the program, I’m hoping that they’ll at least consider changing their policies so that someone after me can get in and achieve their dream,” she said.