Absence policies conflict with health services code
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 22:09
With the cold season beginning and trips to Student Health Services soon to follow, Miami University students will have to decide whether their sneezing, coughing and sore throat symptoms constitute missing classes.
It’s up to faculty members to set an attendance policy for their courses, according to the Miami University Student Handbook, so each professor handles the “I was sick” excuse in slightly different ways.
Although Kelly Abshire, a Miami microbiology lecturer, said she tries to work with students one-on-one, she said determining whether the excuse was legitimate is a complicated call.
“We understand that we can’t have students coming to class with an illness getting others sick,” Abshire said.
However, when a student misses several classes with the same excuse, it gets tricky.
“It certainly carries a lot more weight when students let us know before they are going to be absent rather than three hours after they miss a test,” Abshire said.
Although she said she takes students’ word most of the time, like many Miami professors, she requires some sort of written verification for being excused from an exam.
Miami’s Student Health Services provides students with documentation of being at the clinic and being seen by a physician, however, it is against their policy to write any type of excuse notes for students, according to Gail Walenga, assistant vice president of Student Health Services.
“Our policy and our practice has always been that if a student is ill they contact the faculty and they negotiate with them about how the faculty wants to deal with their illness,” Walenga said.
Walenga said students should take the responsibility of their absences upon themselves.
“Once you hit the university you get to act as an adult and take on some adult responsibilities and the negotiate those with your faculty,” Walenga said.
First-year Matt DeMaro said he missed a geography 101 class due to a fever. DeMaro said he went to Student Health Services and they told him he could not go to class that day but they did not give him an excuse note. DeMaro said several of his professors counted his absence as excused but he was not allowed to make up class work for one of his classes.
“For one of the classes actually, I missed a quiz during the class and I wasn’t allowed to make it up, but he said at the beginning of the year if you miss class you won’t be able to make stuff up,” DeMaro said.
Since Health Services does not provide written notes for students, professors then cannot ask for them, according to Steve Wyatt, a professor and chair of the finance department.
Wyatt noted that because of the HIPPA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information, doctors’ notes detailing any health issues are not allowed.
“So a professor can’t demand that,” Wyatt said.
However, students can always volunteer health information, which can be beneficial according to Wyatt.
“The problem is that some students abuse [the policy] and the rest of students that don’t abuse [it] that pay the price,” Wyatt said.
How do professors decide which students are really sick?
“That’s where trust comes in,” Wyatt said.
If students establish they are honest people, there is less reason to question them, according to Wyatt.
However, he has another solution to negate any ambiguity; he doesn’t allow make-ups, so when students are absent for exams he counts their next exam as double the points.
“I make my policy so we never have to get into the issue of ‘why’— it doesn’t matter,” Wyatt said.
David Pennock, interim zoology department chair, said he does not normally encounter conflicts when dealing with absence matters.
“But, I can definitely see where [the conflict] might be a problem,” Penncock said.
“I personally wish that Student Health Services would do something like [provide notes for students].”
Like Pennock and Abshire, many professors encourage students to use common sense when they have symptoms of illness.
“If a student is sick, we obviously don’t want them to come to class to spread the diseases and get sicker,” Wyatt said.
So as cold and flu bugs spread around campus, students and professors must tag-team efforts to prevent studies being affected.
“I would encourage all faculty to be reasonable and accommodating; we all offer respect for their circumstances and just want the students to get better,” Wyatt said.