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EDITORIAL: Absence policies are not accomodating

As college students, we are all aware of our class’s absence policies. These policies vary wildly between and even within departments. Some professors only allow you a couple of absences, some hand out pop quizzes to incentivize coming to class and some don’t take attendance at all. 

Many professors allow students to have a number of absences that equals a week of class. So, if a class meets three times a week, each student is allowed to have three absences. On the outside, this seems like a fair policy. It seems to give a certain amount of leeway for emergencies.

However, upon second glance, absence policies are unfair to many students. Those who are often sick, have a disability or a mental illness are disproportionately affected by such policies.

With an absence policy that allows students to miss one week of class only, this promotes the unhealthy notion that school goes before health. Students who have previously had to miss class for illness-related reasons are forced to either come to class sick or to lose points for missing more class. 

It could be argued that these students are a special case and that they should get a doctor’s note to excuse themselves from class. The fact is, however, not every professor accepts doctors' notes, and not everyone can visit the doctor the moment they fall ill. 

The IU Health Center, the most convenient place to receive medical care while on campus, only accepts the insurance providers Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna Student Health. For students who don’t have this insurance, the health center is too pricey. Instead, they must look toward health care providers in town. 

However, even this may prove to be fruitless, and for out-of-state students, this still might not be an option. For example, IU sophomore and IDS columnist Elsbeth Sanders is from Illinois. The closest place that accepts her Illinois-based health insurance is half an hour away. That means if she wants to get a doctor’s note, she has to go to the health center and pay full price. Many other out-of-state and even in-state students are in the same position.

Not to mention, some students do not even have health insurance. The validity of their illness-based absences should not be based on their ability to pay exorbitant medical care prices. 

For those with a disability or a mental illness, one might suggest they simply register with the IU Disability Services for Students. In a perfect world, this would be a perfect solution. However, this is not a perfect world, and students are often denied the accommodations they desperately need. 

Anne Anderson, a senior and IDS columnist at IU, shared her experiences with trying to apply for much-needed accommodations through DSS. During her sophomore year, she had an eating disorder. She was depressed and often couldn’t get out of bed because she was so light-headed, which caused her to miss class.

When she was able to get out of bed, she would purge between classes but still have to show up to her next class because she did not have any more excused absences. During her time at IU, only one professor ever accepted her doctors’ notes to excuse her from class.

Despite proof from her cardiologist, which proved her heart rate was dangerously low and her blood sugar was erratic, she was still denied accommodations on the basis that her BMI was normal. Since the IU Health Center would not run the necessary tests to determine she was days away from cardiac arrest, DSS did not have a file on her allow her to have any accommodations, including missing a final.

On the day of one of her finals, Anne passed out on her way to turn in the test. She had to be taken to the emergency room and, since she is uninsured, is still paying off the bill. Only after passing out cold in class was she allowed to receive accommodations.

Maybe this story is not the norm, but the fact that anyone had to go through this shows there is a problem with the way things are done. It should not take passing out during a final to be allowed to miss class. 

The absence policies force students to go to class instead of looking after themselves. It punishes students who most need support. The path that needs to be taken to receive DSS accommodations is too difficult and too long to provide support to all students who need it. 

Considering the unfair way absence policies affect certain populations of students, something needs to be done. Absence policies need to be more relaxed. Yes, students do better when they attend class, but if students decide to abuse a relaxed absence policy by missing class for no reason, then that will be reflected in their grade. 

College students are adults and need to learn to make their own decisions. If a student’s grade drops because they simply don’t want to come to class, that’s on them. A more relaxed absence policy would be a godsend for those who need it, and therefore it should be implemented University-wide. 

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