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What is current practice?

  • Office provides no accommodations for students who may miss multiple classes due to a medical condition.
  • Students are put in the position of having to drop classes or negotiate with faculty on their own.
  • Office provides an accommodation called “flexible attendance.” 
  • This accommodation is often listed on the accommodation letter with little explanation.
  • Faculty and students are left to sort out what this means and how it applies in a given course.
  • More recently some schools are initiating complex processes that require an extensive amount of time to implement.
  • Disability resource professionals spend lots of time coordinating this accommodation. 

What are the implicit messages?

  • Missing classes is the student’s problem, not an access problem.
  • Students with medical conditions that result in more absences than the average student do not belong in college.
  • Faculty can decide when and if an accommodation is appropriate.
  • Attendance is more important than mastery.
  • Students with medical conditions require lots of work and are time-consuming.
  • It is okay that students with medical conditions are graded on whether they can be in class, not what they have learned.

How might it be different?

Disability resource professionals could recognize that the problem is the policy, not the student. Faculty could determine whether attendance is essential to the course or whether the policy is simply an enticement for students to attend. The disability resource professional could communicate proactively with faculty and engage students in identifying where barriers exist for them.

Communication with Faculty

Attendance policies can differentially impact students with certain medical conditions who may have to miss classes more frequently than their nondisabled peers. The Disability Resource Center staff want to work with you to establish policies that support your course objectives without creating an unnecessary barrier for some disabled students, allowing these students to demonstrate their mastery of the content. 

Examine your course design to see if this applies to your course.

  1. Do students get points for attending class?
  2. Do you give participation points to students for participating in discussions?
  3. Do you take points away for students that miss more than a specific number of classes?
  4. Do you have regular in-class quizzes or assignments that make up a percentage of the grade of the course?

If you answered yes to any of these, we want to work with you to have a plan in place so that students with chronic illnesses or other medical conditions are not discriminated against by your course design.

We’ll be glad to work with you on this. Here are a few choices that are available to you.

  1. Alter your course design so that a student’s grade is not based on whether they are in class or not.
  2. Provide two different grading options for all students to choose from–one that factors in attendance and participation and one that does not.*
  3. Continue with a grading system that includes attendance but be prepared to offer another grading system when a student is provided an accommodation that calls for a modification of that policy.
  4. If you think that attendance is an essential component of your course, contact us to discuss what is needed to demonstrate this. (An example of this would be a lab course where students have to be present to conduct activities that demonstrate their knowledge.)

*Below is an example of providing options to students. If you decide to provide this option to all students, we’d be glad to look it over before you add it to your syllabus.

I value your attendance and participation in this class. Experience has shown me that students who attend, participate and engage typically do better in the class. I also recognize that sometimes life circumstances or illnesses may make it difficult for some students to be present in every class. Here are two options for you to choose from. Let me know which you prefer by [date] and we’ll use that to calculate your grade.

Grading Option 1
  • Attendance and participation – 10 points
  • Exam 1 – 20
  • Exam 2 – 20
  • Exam 3 – 20
  • Exam 4 – 20
  • Paper – 10 points
Grading Option 2
  • Exam 1 – 22
  • Exam 2 – 22
  • Exam 3 – 22
  • Exam 4 – 22
  • Paper – 12

If attendance is likely to present a barrier for you, I’ll simply weight the assignments higher and you will not be penalized if you have to miss class.

Verbal Communication with Students (during meeting with student)

Let’s talk a bit about attendance since you’ve said your medical condition sometimes results in your missing classes. In some courses, attendance is essential to the course. One example of this might be a lab course where you need to demonstrate ability to use certain equipment or do specific activities. In other courses, there may be attendance policies in place that are there to discourage missing class, but do where attendance is not essential to the course. Some professors may also give participation points to students who are present or who participate in discussion. If you are not able to be in class due to your medical condition, you miss out on those points. When you get your syllabus and notice these kinds of policies in place, please bring it to our attention. We want you to have a fair chance to demonstrate your knowledge and mastery of the course content and not to be penalized for absences that result from your medical condition. When you select this course as being one that you want this accommodation in place, your professor will receive an email from us initiating a conversation to ensure such attendance policies are modified.

What is the potential impact of this change?

  • To the extent possible, barriers are removed proactively.
  • The problem is located in the course design, not in a specific student.
  • The student receives the message that they are not the problem.
  • Professors have choices in how they design classes and consequences of choosing not to change the design.
  • There is clarity about the reason for and the implementation of the accommodation.

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