Student absence due to COVID-19 FAQ

Similar to the spring 2020 semester, the COVID-19 pandemic requires Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to exercise flexibility and make temporary adjustments to enable faculty, staff and students the opportunity to be successful.

This temporary student absence regulation, effective for the 2020-21 academic year, is designed to align with the university’s reopening plans submitted to the state as well as provide appropriate protections for faculty and students should a student miss class, activities or assignments due to COVID-19.

This regulation provides guidance for students who are required to enter quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 and addresses how to handle disruptions in their attendance due to these circumstances. This regulation is narrowly focused as there are numerous other reasons for student absences that are beyond the scope of this regulation.

This regulation applies to all students: undergraduate, graduate and professional.

General questions

The "Student absence due to COVID-19" temporary academic regulation specifically refers to an excused absence related to COVID-19. In practical terms, this means that a student may receive an excused absence for medical reasons that require quarantine or isolation due to any of the following reasons: a positive COVID-19 test, being tested for COVID-19 or exposure to COVID-19 as determined by a local or state Department of Health and Center for Disease Control (CDC) contact tracing guidelines.

Any other COVID-19 related disruptions that cause students to miss class, activities or assignments are not under the purview of this temporary regulation (e.g. loss of job, dependent care disruptions).

Student Health Services or other health care provider will provide notification for excused absence to the student, which the student can then provide to their faculty members.

Students who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or who test positive for COVID-19, or have been contacted by the health department must contact the VCU COVID-19 call center at 1-804-MYCOVID or 1-804-692-6843.

No. Due to privacy laws, an excused absence notification will not explicitly disclose the nature of the medical issue.

No. Students who miss any scheduled classes, activities and assignments are responsible for completing all material covered or assignments made during the absence unless otherwise designated by the faculty. This includes missing synchronous class sessions/activities (exclusively in-person, in-person blended, in-person hybrid, and synchronous online), or being unable to participate in scheduled asynchronous online learning.

Yes. As in any semester, students may be absent for non-medical reasons. These absences may include, but are not limited to jury duty, religious observance, death in the family or other unanticipated crisis or traumatic event.

In these cases, normal established protocols will be followed: the student should first talk to their faculty member, who is authorized to decide whether or not the absence is excused or not. If the student disagrees with the faculty member's decision, they should then talk to their program director or department chair, and keep your advisor informed.

Isolation separates those who test positive from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of those who may have been exposed to see if they become sick. For more information, see the Virginia Department of Health brochure and CDC guidance.

A reasonable academic adjustment is a faculty-determined modification to a course schedule or content that enables students to satisfy the intended learning outcomes equitably while preserving the course’s integrity and rigor. Reasonable academic adjustments vary by course, and rely on a faculty member’s professional judgment, innovation and flexibility. Examples may include, but are not limited to, extended due dates and restructured or alternative assignments. The focus should be on whether the student can make academic progress toward successfully completing the course.

Students should note that some faculty may have a syllabus that describes an attendance policy with a specified limit on the number of absences. While this regulation would supersede the majority of such policies, there are certain exceptions. Examples include: programs using a cohort model, or courses where missing the set number of sessions means you cannot successfully complete the licensure/certification or program accreditation requirements.

Clarification with the faculty member over any absences is highly encouraged. The focus should be on whether the student has made or can make satisfactory academic progress toward successfully completing the course.

Expectations include:

  • If the student is able to remain engaged during the quarantine or isolation period, they are expected to participate in virtual learning opportunities or to complete other remote materials that allow for continuity of learning
  • If the student’s illness prevents them from remaining engaged due to COVID-19, student will notify faculty of challenges and determine and consider best options for completion or temporary suspension of work
  • If the student is not able to continue learning and the absence is extended beyond 14 consecutive calendar days (Monday-Sunday), faculty should discuss options for successful completion or withdrawal of the course with the student

A student should notify a faculty member at the earliest possible time and as soon as a medical excused absence is received.

For students

Regardless of their location, students who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or who test positive for COVID-19, or have been contacted by the health department must contact the VCU COVID-19 call center at 1-804-MYCOVID or 1-804-692-6843.

If you have NO symptoms of COVID-19 and have NOT been contacted by your local health department or VCU's contact tracing team with specific instructions of your need to quarantine or isolate, you should continue to attend classes and follow all health and safety protocols. 

You will not know specifics of another person’s health history or subsequent protocols related to COVID-19 exposure. If there is a concern over your potential exposure to COVID-19, you will be contacted by your local health department or VCU's contact tracing team. Privacy of all individuals will be maintained.

VCU understands that COVID-19 can affect student's academic performance in a variety of ways (e.g. loss of job, dependent care disruptions). Students should talk to both their faculty member and academic advisor about factors that may affect their academic work.

If an impasse with a faculty member is reached, a student should contact their program director or department chair. Students should also keep their advisor informed.

An advisor is one of the central points of contact for supporting students as they navigate their degree programs. Students should keep their advisors aware of medical excused absences so they can assist as necessary.

When submitting your excused absence note to the faculty member, make the faculty member aware if academic adjustments are needed for your participation in the group project. Although you may wish to notify your peers of your absence, you are not obligated to disclose the reason.

For faculty

COVID-19 is a highly contagious infectious disease. It is important to quarantine if a student has known exposure to this virus for the health and safety of the student and the VCU community. (Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of those who may have been exposed to see if they become sick).

If you receive an excused absence note for a student, faculty should provide students with appropriate materials for continuity of learning during quarantine or isolation.

An excused absence note from Student Health Services or health care provider will indicate the need for a student to miss class for a specified number of consecutive calendar days. Specific reasons (e.g., medical diagnosis) are not disclosed as that would violate privacy laws.

There are several options for consideration, including but not limited to allowing the student to take an incomplete, withdrawal from the course, medical leave of absence, providing more time to see if they can make up the work.

No. Faculty are not permitted to share a student's specific medical information under any conditions, as this would be a violation of the HIPAA Security Rule. As part of its COVID-19 reporting process, students who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or who test positive for COVID-19, or have been contacted by the health department must contact the VCU COVID-19 call center at 1-804-MYCOVID or 1-804-692-6843. VCU will inform all individuals who need to know of any potential exposure.

Given the broad variety of ways the COVID-19 pandemic might adversely affect students, faculty are encouraged to exercise the highest degree of flexibility that is feasible when responding to excused absence notifications at this time.

Regardless of course modality (in-person exclusively, blended, hybrid), all faculty are expected to be ready to move their course to remote teaching should anything change in the prevalence of COVID-19 and VCU’s plan to remain open for some form of in-person instruction is compromised. This same flexibility should enable faculty to provide students with appropriate materials for continuity of learning during quarantine or isolation.

Group projects should be treated as all other work when the faculty member is considering reasonable academic adjustments. If the student is unable to continue participating in the group project either temporarily or permanently, it may be necessary to notify the group of the absence and how to restructure the workload among the remaining members. However, per privacy laws, neither the student nor the faculty member should share the reason for the student's absence.

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