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How should faculty treat student absences during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There are two general principles to keep in mind. First, while it is always true that the University does not want people who are ill to come to class, it is particularly true in the midst of a pandemic. Second, flexibility is essential given that some students are in isolation and quarantine. Below is a summary of the relevant policies and guidance related to how to manage student absences during COVID.

Instructors are encouraged to handle student absences with flexibility during this pandemic period. Additionally, it is critical to our health and safety efforts that instructors advise students who are feeling ill not to attend class. FAQs on the keepteaching website and the virus info website provide additional information about how instructors might provide make-up work to students who are unable to participate in class for a short period of time or to engage them remotely with collaborative or communication tools if the period of time is extensive.

Penn State guidelines pertaining to class attendance are available from two sources. First, the Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual states that “in the case of illness, students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel.” University Health Services does not provide medical notes to students. Second, the University Faculty Senate’s Policies and Rules for Undergraduate Students states, “Instructors also should provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss classes for other legitimate but unavoidable reasons. Legitimate, unavoidable reasons are those such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, or religious observance.” In addition, the Faculty Senate’s syllabus guidelines discuss student attendance and explain that syllabi should “emphasize that students should NOT come to class physically when they are feeling ill.”

If a student is taking a CP or CM course and has tested positive for COVID, the instructor will receive an email. Please note that it is possible that a student will notify you of a positive test result before you receive this email. This is explained in depth in an FAQ in the Sept. 4 Faculty Digest. Instructors teaching CR or CW courses will not receive an email if a student in their class tests positive, but should still work with these students to make up any missed work if the student is too ill to attend class remotely.

Students may report to you that they are feeling ill or feel that they may have been exposed. Students who feel ill should be advised to not attend class in person and to get tested through Penn State’s walk-up testing process. Students who feel that they may have been exposed should be advised to complete the Student COVID-19 Self-Referral Form on the COVID-19 support page for students and can also be tested through walk-up testing.