Policy for Course Attendance Accommodations For Students with Relevant Disabilities
Leniency in class attendance as an accommodation at Beloit College is granted on a case-by-case basis to provide equal access for students with relevant disabilities without fundamentally altering or compromising the education of the student or others enrolled in a given course. This accommodation is consistent with Beloit College’s commitment to inclusive living and learning and provides an avenue of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In developing this policy, we recognize and value several principles of course design that are usually used to maximize the learning of all students. Pedagogically, class attendance serves a number of purposes, from providing practice for new learning to assuring mastery and understanding or demonstrating progress in skills or knowledge development. Most attendance policies set by professors are not arbitrary. They often mark the minimum participation needed for student learning, either individually or collectively for all the students enrolled in the course. Students who miss presentations or participation in critiques, lab work, and/or group discussions often miss work that cannot be replicated and individually, and sometimes collectively, may not achieve the same learning outcomes. Oftentimes, missing classes will interfere not only with the accommodated student’s progress but also with the learning and skills development of other students. Missing classes often leads to missed instruction and a deficit in learning.
Consequently, students are expected to attend all classes and activities of the course, including but not limited to performances, presentations, movies and/or other expected components of participation in a course. Because of the essential aspect of course attendance, professors have a right to establish procedures and/or consequences for those that miss classes.
Some disabilities, however, may impact a student’s ability to attend classes. In such cases, leniency with regards to class attendance may be considered an appropriate accommodation. If leniency with attendance is to be considered as an accommodation, students are to work with the Director of Learning Enrichment and Disability Services (hereinafter referred to as “Director”) who will establish the need according to the usual processes. The Director will then communicate with the professor to establish that leniency with attendance is an appropriate accommodation for the student. The professor, if the professor has not already done so, is then to determine which days and the maximum absences allowed without compromising the integrity of the course/program and/or the learning of others in the course. This is to be done in accordance with the College’s goal of providing an inclusive living and learning atmosphere while complying with federal regulations as well as observing best practices established by disability professionals in higher education.
We encourage professors to exercise empathy and creativity when working with students to accommodate them. Professors are responsible for carefully examining class days to determine whether or not they are fundamental to the learning of course.
The following set of questions assist professors in making determinations:
- To what degree is class participation a critical aspect of the functioning of the course?
- Will missing a particular class discussion or in-class activity significantly impact the learning of others in the course (i.e. presentation)?
- Will the student who misses class be able to acquire the knowledge later or differently? (For example, a field trip may be the only opportunity to learn/experience a significant learning goal of the course.)
- Is assessment of students’ work dependent on class-wide participation?
- At what point has a student missed a significant number of classes such that the student has not legitimately taken the course?
- Does the syllabus structure and explanation support the importance of course attendance?
- How have requests for excused absences from other students or for other students been handled?
Upon reflection of the questions listed above, professors are to provide a contextual explanation to the Director on which classes and how many can be missed without fundamentally altering the course. When contacted by the Director, an immediate response is important to ensure that both the student and professor have timely information so that any subsequent decisions will not seem arbitrary or capricious. Professors are to note that if missing a class or classes is not allowed for students with disabilities without penalty, then those classes are not to be missed (without penalty) for any other student or student circumstance. Also if a maximum number of absences has been established for a student with a disability, that same maximum is not to be exceeded for other students or other student circumstances without penalty.
Some additional guidelines regarding accommodation-related adjustments to deadlines include:
- Agreed upon leniency with attendance should be specific and limited to a certain number of absences.
- Accommodation-related attendance leniency is leniency without grade penalty. The professor’s course-specific policy on attendance (e.g., 10 points off a grade for each day missed) will remain applicable to these students if they miss classes for non-disability related reasons.
- Missing classes when it is not related to the effects of a disability are not included in this accommodation and should be addressed according to the syllabus stated attendance policy(ies). It can, however, be combined for a comprehensive policy. For example, a professor may establish that students may miss 3 classes before there is a grade penalty, but may extend that to 5 absences for a student with a disability.
- Students who have an established leniency with attendance accommodation are still expected to notify professors of the need each time that the need arises. Given that the very nature of the impact of the disability may interfere with the student contacting the professor in advance or immediately, alternate arrangements are to be made as part of the accommodation.
- A student who is experiencing significant challenges regularly (vs. episodically or occasionally) with attendance in a course should meet with the Director to consider alternatives.
- A student who regularly experiences challenges with several courses in a term may need to consider taking a lesser course load or other options. (This also would be determined on an interactive, case-by-case basis with the Director and likely the student’s advisor.)
- Accommodations are not retroactive; in other words, presenting an access letter mid-semester would not reverse any of a student’s missing classes policy(ies) prior to the professor’s receipt of the letter.
- However, once the professor has received the leniency email from the Director, the accommodation is to be applied as soon as possible.
- Professors are to retain this accommodation information when evaluating other student requests, making sure that leniency for non-disability related reasons does not exceed that granted to the student with a disability.
Procedure for Attendance Leniency
- Students who need accommodations for a disability should meet with the Director of Learning Enrichment and Disability Services. The Director and student will then discuss appropriate services and accommodations. The Director will request additional documentation when needed. As with all accommodations, requests for accommodations must be renewed each semester.
- Upon establishing that a student has a disability that merits an accommodation of leniency in course attendance, the Director will notify the professors teaching that student via email that this accommodation is warranted.
- The professor, in consultation with the Director, will determine how this accommodation will be applied in the respective course (e.g., where attendance exceptions are pedagogically possible, and if so what are reasonable limits). In making this determination, professors are to consider the questions delineated in this policy. Professors will rarely be privy to the student’s specific disability (unless the student volunteers it) and professors are not to attempt to get that information from the student as the student has already substantiated the need with the Director.
- Following this deliberation, the professor will put in writing to the Director the proposed summary of how the accommodation will be applied in the professor’s courses with a short rationale or explanation for those classes or times when leniency is not appropriate. If the Director determines that the decisions have been made with appropriate deliberation and in good faith by the professor, the Director will ask the professor to email the student directly with the determinations. If the Director has questions and concerns, the professor and the Director will communicate until a satisfactory and justified outcome has been determined. Professors are to retain this information when evaluating other student requests, making sure that leniency for non-disability related reasons does not exceed that granted to the student with a disability.
In some cases, professors may choose to ask students to conduct an alternate activity or assignment in lieu of an absence.
Professors, when considering this option, are to make sure that the assignment is reasonable and equivalent to the missed class.
Even when a leniency accommodation is granted, missing class is not automatically excused. Once the leniency accommodation for a course has been determined, the student must communicate with the professor as soon as possible to let the professor know the nature of the absence (disability-related or not) and with an estimate on when the student will be able to return to class and when appropriate, make up missing work.
The following steps should be followed each time a student experiences an instance of the condition that results or may result in the need for the accommodation:
- The Student should notify the professor (and copy the Director) as soon as possible, and indicate that the absence was disability-related.
- Professors should make every effort to respond to the student in as timely a manner as possible to indicate that they have received the notification and to confirm that the absences are covered by the accommodation.
Both students and professors may consult with the Director at any time for guidance.
Summary of Responsibilities
Students: The Dean of Students office, Health and Wellness Center, Counseling Services, Learning Enrichment and Disability Services, advisors, and most professor and staff offer options for students who struggle to attend courses regularly. For some, a reduced course load is a helpful strategy. If a student’s disability causes episodic and unpredictable debilitation that makes attending courses difficult to the point of exceeding agreed upon leniency policies, consulting with the Director, student’s advisor, or Dean of Students staff about the option of dropping or late dropping courses for the term is strongly encouraged. Students whose enrollment is frequently tenuous may want to explore the tuition insurance offered via the College.