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The return to in-person classes causes professors to modify their absence policies

Miami University has returned to face-to-face instruction this semester, posing a challenge for professors to accommodate sick or quarantined students while prioritizing in-person teaching.

Miami outlines general attendance policies in the University Policy Library. Each professor is given freedom to develop their own attendance policy, but are required to recognize and accommodate excused absences for religious observances. The only health condition faculty are obligated to excuse is pregnancy and related conditions.

According to Miami’s COVID-19 Campus Updates, “Faculty are strongly encouraged to work with students who miss class due to a death in the family, serious illness or other critical circumstance.”

Juliete Aini, a sophomore psychology and global diplomacy and politics double major, was recently sick. Her professors had varying attendance policies, and some classes were easier to keep up in than others.

“One professor allows people to attend over Zoom and still receive full credit, so everything’s easily accessible online, and you can still kind of attend class,” Aini said. “And then a few of my other professors just gave me notes for that day. But then for some [classes], I just missed everything.”

Aini also said discussion-based classes were more difficult to make up because of the nature of the course. 

“My 300-level political science class …  she gives you the slide notes, but that’s about it. Most of the things she says in class, though, are really important and just the most basic things are on the slides,” Aini said.

Katie Feilen, assistant teaching professor of biology, anticipated the need to be flexible with attendance this semester.

“I designed my class at the beginning of the semester understanding that we were going to still be experiencing many of the impacts of the pandemic,” Feilen said. “So for each class period I give my students options that include coming to class in person, attending virtually on Zoom that is presented through the classroom technology, or watching the recording of class and completing the makeup assignment.”

Monica Schneider, professor of political science, designed her classroom strategy to accommodate the needs of her students and her family.

“We are still in a pandemic,” Schneider said. “My children could get sick or have to quarantine. My husband or I could get sick or have to quarantine. I wanted to have a design that was fair to everyone and allowed everyone to stay on track no matter what was thrown our way.”

Schneider uses Top Hat, an online learning platform, to assign participation questions to students who were absent from the class discussion. She also posts video lectures for students to review material they missed.

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The priority remains face-to-face instruction, so students utilizing the alternatives while sick are still likely to miss out on important aspects of class.

Feilen acknowledges the discussion opportunities of in-person classes that can be difficult to translate to the Zoom population.

“Right now I know that my focus is on my students in my classroom and so sometimes the students that are zooming in are not able to fully experience all the benefits,” Feilen said.

The return to in-person instruction was highly anticipated by students and staff, but the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt.

“I’m tired and not feeling 100%, and I’ve heard my students say they feel the same way,” Schneider said. “We are all doing our best.”