Attendance and Disability

Students with disabilities are expected to adhere to the same attendance policies as other students. However, it is a reality that some students have disabilities that may cause an increase in class absences. There is no clear guidance on whether or not an attendance policy must be waived or extended should a student with a disability exceed the number of allowed absences. However, faculty are responsible for (1) informing students of their attendance policy, (2) meeting with students who wish to discuss the attendance policy, and (3) explaining why they will or will not extend their attendance policy and the rationale(s) for this decision.

Students most likely to request modified attendance policies are those with health-related disabilities that flare up episodically. This might include students with lupus or fibromyalgia, sickle cell anemia, seizure disorders, cancer, migraines, and conditions requiring dialysis. Students with mental health disabilities who are experiencing an exacerbation of symptoms may also request modification of attendance policies.

Federal law requires colleges and universities to consider reasonable modification of attendance policies if required to accommodate a student’s disability. In making this determination, two questions must be answered:

  • Does the student have a documented disability that directly affects his/her ability to attend class on a regular basis? Student Disability Services will make this determination based on a review of documentation from the student’s physician or psychologist and provide verification in a letter the student presents to the instructor.
  • Is attendance an essential part of the class? Would modification of attendance policies result in a fundamental alteration of the curriculum? Faculty make this determination in consultation with Student Disability Services.

Student Disability Services recommends that students with a disability-related need for flexibility in attendance meet with their instructors to discuss the extent to which modification in attendance policies may be reasonable for a particular class. The student and instructor should have a clear understanding of what accommodation can be made for disability-related absences. In cases where attendance is an essential part of the class, a medical or mental health withdrawal may be considered a reasonable accommodation if absences become excessive.