How an ASBSU initiative is calling for a change in excused absences

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Illness is an inevitable aspect of the student experience, and most have taken a sick day and had to skip class. Most often, missing class can mean falling behind or losing attendance points. The typical class syllabus allows for a small amount of unexcused absences, but anything more than that can require a doctor’s note to give students an adequate amount of time for recovery. 

Denise Persuki, a nurse practitioner with Boise State Health Services, explained that the office wants to work with students to give them the most successful outcome. 

“We offer notes to miss class due to illness depending on the length of illness,” Peruski said. “I tell them they are here to be successful at the university, and if illness gets in the way that we will work with them and reach out to who we need to reach out to.”

While a doctor’s note is an option for some students, they are not always accessible for others. Some students lack health insurance and cannot afford the out-of-pocket expenses of visiting the doctor, while other times it is simply not practical. If a student has the flu or strep throat that will go away in a few days, going to a doctor may not seem like the best route.

Dehra McFaddan, social work graduate student and secretary of academic affairs for ASBSU, wants to change the doctor’s note policy. She is currently working to create a policy change that would provide a different way for students to take the time to recover from an illness without having to get a doctor’s note. 

“It’s making it clear that having a doctor’s note isn’t always needed,” McFaddan said. “There’s other forms of having an excused absence when you’re sick, and that sickness can look a lot of different ways.” 

One way McFaddan thinks recovery time could be more accessible to students is through a document used at other universities called a declaration of sickness. After getting sick and communicating that with their professor, a student can fill out a document stating that they were sick for a certain amount of days and have it notarized. 

McFaddan hopes that a change like this will give students the accessibility they need. 

“Ideally, it’s just so students have more of a buffer for when they’re not feeling well,” McFaddan said. “It’s kind of a form of economic discrimination, just assuming that everyone has access to health care and coverage when that’s not the case.” 

Economic discrimination is the last thing that Dr. Heather Witt, social work professor at Boise State, wants in her classroom. That is why, for the past three semesters, Witt has worked a declaration of illness policy into her syllabus. From Witt’s perspective, providing economic accessibility to students is an important aspect of the social work program. 

“I just decided to move forward with it as a way to try to bring economic justice into the classroom,” Witt said. “As social workers, we have social justice ethics and values to our code of ethics, and economic justice is one of them.”

According to Witt, the implementation of the new policy has not created any major changes in how students attend class. Only two students have filled out an illness declaration this semester, and both of them did not need to go to the doctor, despite having insurance. 

Despite the fact that the doctor’s note is the campus standard, Witt believes that critically analyzing ways in which campus can be more inclusive will benefit everybody. 

“That’s always how it was for me when I was in school, and so I just continued on with that without kind of giving it a critical analysis of how that would be impacting my students,” Witt said. “Now that I’ve done that and I see this alternative, I see a lot of benefits.”

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