Teaching Policies & Resources — Student Absences

Important Policies Related to Student Absences

  • Individual instructors, course supervisors, and/or departments determine the policy on class attendance. This policy must be clearly stated on the required syllabus. If an issue arises, CLAS first uses the stated policy within the syllabus to help adjudicate a problem.
  • University policy requires that students be permitted to make up examinations missed because of illness, mandatory religious obligations, certain University activities, or unavoidable circumstances. All instructors must comply with this policy. The attendance policy must provide options for making up exams missed due to one of these excused absences. Please see the section below for more information.
  • Students participating in authorized activities are expected to give each instructor a statement before the absence signed by a responsible official that specifies the dates and times the student will miss class. Authorized activities include participation in intercollegiate athletic teams, in the marching band and pep band, attendance at events scheduled by recognized University groups (such as mock trial competitions) as well as participation in University field trips, service with the National Guard, and jury duty.
  • Attendance policies should be discussed with students during class and throughout the semester as needed, but especially before the due dates of major assignments and before exams.

The College relies on the professional discretion of each instructor to be fair, consistent, and compassionate while holding students to a high standard of integrity and performance.

Documentation of Student Absences

Any pattern of absence beyond 3 or 4 missed days of class may be treated as a long term illness (see below). However, a high degree of professional discretion is required when making judgments about particular situations. Please note the student's overall performance in the class and any pattern of missing exams or important due dates. Any such patterns or concerns should immediately be discussed with the student. Students with ongoing health issues should be referred to Student Disability Services to screen for possible official accommodations. If there are concerns about the student's honesty, please consult with Kathryn Hall in College about the situation (335-2633). If you have other concerns about the student's behavior, please contact Peter Hubbard (335-2633).

Short-Term Absences

  • Instructors should be aware that students with the flu, colds, or other viruses are encouraged by the health care community to stay home and not to seek care since viruses spread quickly in public places. UI Student Health no longer provides documentation to students for short-term illness; do not refer students to Student Health for that purpose.
  • Since medical documentation is not generally available for short-term illnesses, most instructors do not ask for documentation for a short-term health issue but instead use an alternative strategy for encouraging attendance.
  • Some instructors, for example, treat short-term absences as an academic integrity issue. These instructors discuss the Code of Academic Honesty at the beginning of the semester and before key due dates to make sure students understand the confidence placed in their actions and the consequences of not living up to these expectations.
  • Instructors often see a correlation between students struggling in class with absences on days that key assignments are due. These instructors discuss the situation with a student individually, especially before an important due date, referring the student to available resources or suggesting other solutions. Once the student feels a  personal responsibility to an instructor or class, the chance of academic misconduct can at times, though not always, diminish.
  • Some instructors, particularly those teaching larger numbers of students, give students a certain number of excused absences to be used when the student is ill. After those absences are used, the student must provide documentation for an absence or is held to the consequence of missing class (with exceptions still made for a crisis or dire family emergency or UI activity, if necessary). In these cases, the student may present a list of appointments from MyChart, used by many health organizations, showing dates of appointments. The appointments do not have to be at the time of the missed class but should indicate an ongoing, serious health problem. The student's privacy is protected legally concerning health issues and you may not request medical records.If a personal crisis affects a student's ability to complete a course or affects an entire semester's registration, the student should be referred immediately to CLAS Academic Programs & Student Development (120 Schaeffer Hall). An online scheduler is available for student appointments; student may also stop by to make an appointment or call.
  • Others organize a number of make-up examination sessions, provided for students who would like an alternate test date. Other missed assignments are not permitted to be made up.

Instructors are encouraged to consult with their departments, colleagues, supervisors, the College, and the Center for Teaching to find a method for dealing with student absences. Approaches will vary, depending on the course size, the discipline, the instructor's pedagogy, the profile of the students, and other related issues.

Long-Term Absences

  • A student with a long-term illness (or generally those who miss more than five days of classes) should be able to provide a record of appointments or documentation from a health care provider, such as a note stating the student has been under the doctor's care. 
  • Students who do visit Student Health have access to their electronic medical records through MyChart. If they have activated this service, they are able to print off a summary of their appointment dates and times from MyChart. Faculty wishing for documentation for a long-term illness should accept a student's summary of visits as adequate documentation. Student Health is encouraging all students to activate their MyChart account during office visits and summer orientation. UIHC also provides this tool. Never ask to see a student's specific medical records since they are covered by privacy laws and can easily be mishandled.
  • Instructors should remind the class that a student who is absent for more than five days due to an emergency or an illness may request the Registration Center (17 Calvin Hall or registrar@uiowa.edu) to notify each instructor of the reason for the absence.

Other Situations

  • A student may have a chronic illness that necessitates special arrangements; many such students are already registered with Student Disability Services, with their SARS form providing the required documentation. At the beginning of the semester, ask to be notified privately of any such condition.
  • A student may have an underlying condition (such as anxiety disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit disorder, depression, or alcohol or drug dependency) that is exacerbated by illness. The student may not be willing to disclose this information when asking for a medical accommodation. Never ask to see a student's medical records since they are covered by privacy laws. Instead, accept a MyChart (or other) summary of medical visits or a general note from a doctor.
  • Students with chronic issues or serious emergencies may qualify for a grade of Incomplete for the course, given by instructor discretion, if all other conditions for granting an Incomplete have been fulfilled. Important information on the Incomplete (I) grade is available at this link.
  • In very serious situations, a student might also be awarded the grade earned before the illness or the crisis occurred. In this situation, please consult with CLAS (see below).

Consulting with CLAS

  • Peter Hubbard or Kathryn Hall in 120 Schaeffer Hall (335-2633) are  happy to consult with instructors about policy, procedures, or specific student cases related to student illness, absences, and other situations.
  • If a personal crisis affects a student's ability to complete a course or affects an entire semester's registration, the student should be referred immediately to CLAS Academic Programs & Student Development (120 Schaeffer Hall). An online scheduler is available for student appointments; student may also stop by to make an appointment or call.