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A college campus with a bust of George Washington outside

George Washington University settled a pandemic-era lawsuit for $5.4 million Wednesday.

Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

George Washington University has reached a $5.4 million settlement with former students who allege the institution broke its contract with them when it abruptly switched to online-only classes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A district judge in Washington, D.C., approved the settlement Wednesday. The four student plaintiffs will receive $10,000 each, and the remainder of the settlement fund will be distributed as a tuition refund of about $193 for each student who attended online classes during the spring semester of 2020.

A statement notifying eligible recipients of the decision said that the settlement “is not an admission of wrongdoing” and that the university “disclaims all liability” for the breaches of contract alleged in the lawsuit.

The settlement puts an end to a three-year legal saga, which began when GW parent Mark Shaffer filed the initial lawsuit in 2020 and has taken multiple turns since. In 2021 a lower district court dismissed the lawsuit, but that decision was partially overturned a year later by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit and sent back down for further litigation.

Despite initial skepticism of the flurry of lawsuits against universities for switching to online classes in 2020, appeals courts have reversed several other lower-court dismissals, including cases against New York University and GW neighbor American University. Many private universities, including Columbia and Johns Hopkins, have reached multimillion-dollar settlements in similar lawsuits.