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Faculty Guide to Accommodating Absences

In most cases, class attendance is critical to a student’s mastery of knowledge and skills taught in a specific course and students are expected to follow the attendance policy established by the instructor in each class. It is not reasonable for faculty to fundamentally alter, waive or lower: essential course requirements, academic standards, or educational experiences/outcomes when attempting to accommodate absences. It is generally not reasonable to convert a seated course to an online, self-paced, or independent study format.

Reasonable Course Policy Adjustments for Attendance are intended for students with chronic, physical, or mental health disabilities that are episodic in nature. These students may have periodic flare-ups resulting in occasional interruptions that can interfere with academic functioning.

This accommodation is intended to build in a modest amount of flexibility to course policy, when reasonable, to address the impact of periodic flare ups. It is not designed to comprehensively address or fully support a student who misses, or is unable to participate for extended periods of time.

The university should consider alternative, but equivalent, options for students to successfully complete essential course requirements without compromising course standards. These options are determined on a case-by-case basis in consideration of the course requirements and instructor expectations.

Options that may be considered as equivalent alternatives for an absence may include:

  • completing equivalent alternative work
  • attending another course section
  • reviewing missed content during office hours
  • obtaining missed content from a classmate
  • attending class remotely (ie. live video conferencing such as Zoom)
  • participating in an alternate format via discussion board or forum activities
  • providing an alternate option/availability to make up time

Is Attendance Essential?

Each instructor identifies essential course outcomes, determines how to measure mastery of material, and establishes the acceptable number of excused absences a student may accrue to meet these requirements. Instructors are not expected to compromise the essential course objectives nor fundamentally alter their course regardless of a student’s medical condition; however, instructors must consider the following questions, as provided by the Office for Civil Rights to determine if attendance is truly essential:

  • What does the course description and syllabus say regarding attendance?
    • i.e. What is the attendance policy; Is there a difference between excused and unexcused absences; are there alternatives to make-up missed classes?
  • To what extent is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students and among the students themselves?
    • i.e. What components make up the instructional tools for the course learning (lecture, videos, groupwork)?
  • Do student contributions in class constitute a significant component of the learning process?
  • Does the fundamental nature of the course rely upon student participation as an essential method of learning?
    • i.e. How does the student’s participation contribute to their own learning?
  • To what degree does a student’s failure to attend class constitute a significant loss of the educational experience of other students in the class?
    • i.e. How does the student’s participation contribute to other’s learning in the class?
  • What elements of the course are used to calculate the final course grade?

Instructors should comprehensively consider each question and whether there are any reasonable alternatives to meet essential course requirements. It is only after a comprehensive examination that the decision regarding attendance and the impact absences may have on the course, should be determined.

In general, courses that involve significant face-to-face interaction, in-class participation, or where content mastery is reliant on attendance, may have limited alternatives available. For example:

  • labs
  • practicums
  • internships
  • foreign language learning
  • public speaking/communications

A questionnaire will be sent via email once an Accommodation Letter notification has been requested by the student. Instructors should complete the questionnaire as soon as possible to avoid delay in implementation of the accommodation. Information from the questionnaire will be reviewed by the DRO to arrange a Course Policy Adjustment for Attendance Agreement. The DRO may contact the instructor if questions arise with responses to the questionnaire. Upon completion, the student will be emailed a copy of the agreement with the instructor copied. Please note, if the DRO does not receive responses to a questionnaire, it is presumed that attendance, make-ups, and deadlines are flexible and not essential course requirements. The DRO is available for consultation on evaluating essential course requirements and determining possible reasonable alternatives.

Excessive absences, even with an approved DRO attendance accommodation, may require a student to explore options such as a Medical Class Load Reduction, Medical Withdrawal or request an Incomplete directly from instructors.