How to handle taking sick days at school

Almost every student has gone through the experience.  Their notice their throat gets a little scratchy, their nose gets stuffy.  They go to bed hoping they can sleep it off by the next day.

Photo by Jenn Amaro

Of course, when the alarm goes off, the exact opposite happens.  Everything is worse the next morning.  The mere effort of getting out of bed feels impossible, but there’s the dread of missing class.

This is when the debate begins.  Should I miss class and stay in bed?  Should I go to class and infect every one there?  Will I be annoying with my coughing throughout the entire lecture?

The thing that troubles a lot of students, is the fear of missing class, and being reprimanded for it. The one thing that enters many students’ mind when they’re sick is that 10 per cent participation and professionalism mark.

And many students don’t know what the exact protocol is for handling a sick day.

However, according to instructors around campus, as long as it is handled professionally, there should not be a reason to fear being sick.

Craig Robertson, a professor in the School of Media Art and Design, says he would grant an extension for assignments if the student notifies him in advance in a polite and respectful manner.

He understands students get sick, just as faculty do.  Robertson said his rule on missing class doesn’t just apply to the student being sick. If a student has an emergency, or work interferes with class, they should contact him and tell him.

“Life is life,” says Robertson. “People have other things to do, so I wouldn’t dock marks.”  He says his students are comfortable to approach him and he is willing to help students catch up on missed material.

Other professors around the campus agree with this protocol but say they handle it individually with each student.  If there is a problem with multiple classes being missed, it will be reflected in the participation grade.   However, a simple sick day once in a while can be a bigger concern to some students.

Christine Handscomb, a third year Law Clerk student at Durham College, does not always know what to do when she’s ill.

“It’s been drilled into my brain that you just don’t miss school,” says Handscomb.  She said she sends an email to teachers about her being sick, and panics until she gets their reply.

“Normally, it’s fine and they let me know what I missed,” she says. “But sometimes I have a hard time catching up.”

When this situation arises, there is a source to go to.  Elaine Popp, vice-president Academic, says there is a program guide for every program that outlines the protocol for that specific program.

Popp says it is too difficult for the school to have an overall protocol since each program operates differently.  Some programs have more labs, and it’s difficult for a student to miss a hands-on learning environment, where other programs are lectures and students may be able to catch up through readings and PowerPoint slides.

If the flu decides to hit during exam or test days, Popp says that particular incident will be determined through a one-on-one discussion with the student and the instructor.

A basic protocol, particularly from the Business, IT & Management department, is that the student has 24 hours to contact the instructor with an explanation if a test is missed, and the student must meet with the instructor for a one-on-one discussion.  Students can locate their own program guidelines in the Program Guide on DC Connect to find the timelines that they must follow.

If a satisfactory decision cannot be made between the students and teachers, the associate dean or the dean may be involved.

“Of course, being present leads to being successful,” says Popp. “But there are very legitimate reasons why students might have to miss class.”

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Jenn Amaro is a second year journalism student at Durham College. She is the Op-Ed editor for The Chronicle, Durham College's newspaper. She enjoys covering community events and hard news. Her favourite hobby is photography.