Each student, regardless of any disability, is responsible for fulfilling the essential requirements of any course. More often than not, attendance is an essential requirement.
The Office of Civil Rights has developed the following guidelines for determining whether or not attendance is an essential requirement of a given course:
- Is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students, and among students?
- Do student contributions constitute a significant component of the learning process?
- Does the fundamental nature of the course rely upon student participation as an essential method for learning?
- To what degree does a student's failure to attend constitute a significant loss to the educational experience of other students in the class?
- What do the course description and syllabus say?
- Which method is used to calculate the final grade?
- And what are the classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?
In light of these guidelines, it is reasonable to expect that some courses will have stricter attendance policies than others while some course may have no attendance requirement at all. It is also reasonable to anticipate that students will, on occasion, miss one or more class periods due to issues related to a disability.
In most cases, attendance is critical to a student's mastery of the knowledge and/or skills that are taught in a specific course; for this reason, students are expected to follow the attendance policy established by the instructor in each class. If, however, a student believes it may not be possible to abide by the attendance policy of any course due to issues related to a disability, the student should contact SSD (prior to the beginning of the semester when possible) to discuss any foreseeable attendance issues. SSD will work with the student and instructor (or the department chair or other appropriate administrator) to determine appropriate exceptions to the course’s attendance policy where necessary. As with all disability accommodations, these exceptions are determined on an individual, case-by-case basis. Please note that every accommodation-including any related to attendance-may not be appropriate for every course. Exceptions to attendance policies are not open-ended; the number of additional absences a student may receive as a reasonable accommodation will be determined on a case-by-case basis depending upon the degree to which class attendance is an essential requirement of the specific course. For some course, additional absences are not reasonable and cannot be authorized under any circumstances. In those instances where attendance policy exceptions are approved, absences must still be within reason; unlimited absences are never permitted.
SSD has a specific process for requesting and documenting any exception to attendance policy for any course. The necessary forms may be downloaded from this site or picked up at the SSD office. SSD staff are available to explain this process and assist with the forms where needed.
In each course for which the student is requesting either excused absences or extended time for assignments due a disability issue, the following information will be required:
- Student Information (Name, Contact Information)
- Course Information (Course Number/Name, Instructor, etc)
- A Copy of the Course Syllabus (or a complete explanation of the course attendance policy as the student understands it to be)
- Dates (or date range) of missed classes
- A full list of missing assignments (or assignments which could be missed/turned in late) as well as the dates these assignments were initially due
- The students plan for making up missed work, exams, etc. including specific dates when make-up work will be completed
- Supporting documentation (when available) detailing the circumstances of each absence
This form must be completed by the student and submitted, along with any related documents, to SSD, usually at the beginning of the semester. In the case of unexpected, disability related absences, the student should begin discussing make-up assignments (including missed exams) with the instructor immediately AND complete the required forms to apply for an exception to attendance policy through SSD as soon as possible.
Once the student has submitted the exception to attendance policy forms, SSD will consult with the instructor for each course to help determine the degree to which absences should be excused due to a disability. The student will be contacted by SSD, usually within no more than a week, to review the request. In some cases, it may be necessary to negotiate further with an instructor or a department head to reach a final decision on certain requests. If necessary, SSD will explain why the student’s request could not be approved and discuss alternative solutions. The student will also be advised of appropriate procedures to appeal such a decision. In most cases, an appropriate and reasonable number of absences are determined and agreed upon by all parties. The form is completed and the resulting attendance plan is signed by the instructor, the student, and an SSD staff member. This document is essentially a contract which clearly defines the instructor’s expectations and provides a detailed plan for the student to complete missing assignments and make-up exams.
Communicate with the instructor to coordinate make-up work. While some flexibility in deadlines may be possible, the student should make every effort to complete all work on time as planned.
Obtain copies of lecture notes and other materials from missed classes. In some cases, materials may be acquired from the instructor. Students are strongly encouraged to work with other students in class to acquire copies of lecture notes as need. SSD will not provide note-takes for students who are absent.
Recognize that missing class, regardless of any accommodation provided, will likely have negative consequences on academic performance. In-class discussions and experiential learning are essential to most courses. For this reason and others, every effort should always be made to attend class.
When contacted by a student regarding assignments, exams, and make-up work, please respond as soon as reasonably possible. Instructors should also be very clear regarding deadlines and dates.
Provide copies of lectures notes or other instructional materials when possible. Even though it is their responsibility to do so, students will not always be able to acquire notes from other students in class.
Discuss your expectations for the course with the student, emphasizing the learning objectives as detailed in the syllabus. Pay extra attention to any material that will not be possible to make-up.
Avoid being unnecessarily punitive when grading make-up assignments. While some scoring penalties may be appropriate for late work, please apply such penalties according to the agreed upon attendance plan.
Some academic programs or majors are less amenable to allowing exceptions to attendance policies than others. In some courses, exceptions are not possible at all, for a variety of different reasons as noted above. There are a number of strategies students can use to avoid attendance problems in general.
- Reduced course load
- Balanced schedules
- Improved study skills
- Online courses
SSD is always happy to meet with students to discuss these strategies and others issues related to disabilities and accommodations. However, students who expect attendance to be an ongoing issue may wish to consult with an advisor in their program of study regarding the specific expectations of that program.