Fear of misuse overshadows VCU’s COVID-19 student absence policy

Students walk down Shafer Street on VCU's Monroe Park Campus, wearing masks per new university COVID-19 guidelines. Photo by Jon Mirador

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer 

VCU’s temporary COVID-19 protocol allows students in quarantine and isolation to take 14 days of excused absences, and although classwork isn’t automatically pardoned, some are worried that students will misuse the policy.

Students do not have to specify to their professors that they are in quarantine or isolation, but the honor code prohibits students from making false statements to justify missing class or assignments.

VCU has instituted this regulation in good faith,” a release from the Office of the Provost reads.

University spokesperson Michael Porter said students must obtain an excused absence note from Student Health Services or a health care provider to use the policy. The notice should include the provider’s recommended absence period but does not need to disclose the nature of the medical issue.

Catherine Sutton, an associate philosophy professor at VCU, said she has faith that students will not abuse this measure. Sutton said in her experience, students using illness to miss class is rare.

“The COVID policy is in line with the existing policy about absences due to illness,” Sutton said. “In the past, I haven’t seen much abuse with absences for other illnesses.”

Sutton said the temporary regulation may have less of an effect in classes held entirely online.

“I teach online in real time but record the classes on Zoom,” Sutton said. “So when students miss due to illness, they can either watch the recording later or get the notes from a classmate.”

Students are responsible for completing classwork while in quarantine or isolation unless faculty say otherwise. 

“Some students are in quarantine not because they’re sick, but because they have been exposed,” Sutton said, “and so they are just in quarantine and feeling fine, attending classes online.”

If illness prevents a student from studying, they can meet with faculty to determine the best options for completing or temporarily suspending work.

Sophomore graphic design major Lizzy Shin said she was not aware that students are not required to tell their professors if they have COVID-19. Shin said VCU should be responsible for notifying faculty about its students missing class.

“VCU need not only let the students be responsible, but the school should also be responsible for this action. It seems that VCU is only demanding on students to be responsible.” Lizzy Shin, graphic design sophomore

Shin said VCU should have been prepared to handle absences from the moment the decision was made to reopen campus.

“Yes, the students may use this trick to excuse from classes,” Shin said. “I know this is unfair, but it’s VCU’s fault from the beginning, not setting up a proper plan.”

Jaelyn Phillips, another VCU student who is currently taking a gap semester due to COVID-19, finds the new policy “lenient” because it takes the student’s situation into consideration.

“It sounds like a complicated policy,” Phillips said. “But I’m thinking, how else would you let your professor know you have to stay in for two weeks?”

 

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