Attendance Policies Threaten Student Success

An example weighted attendance percentage. (Weight varies per course).

An example weighted attendance percentage. (Weight varies per course).

Last year, school looked very different at Champlain College. Because of the pandemic, the majority of classes were online and a black, muted screen on Zoom was considered as attendance. 

While professors were given the discretion to outline more specific protocols as to what was considered as attendance and participation in class, the college maintained a much looser definition of what attendance meant and the repercussions for not attending class. Now in the 2021-2022 school year with the Covid-19 pandemic more contained, campus policy has allowed for students to attend all classes in person— but is this a good thing? 

The pandemic created a lot of disappointment due to the lack of in-person activities and engagement on campus last year. The majority of students had to take food out of the dining hall, wear a mask on campus and in residence halls, fill out a daily health form, get tested weekly at Skiff Hall, and, most notably, attend the majority of their classes online. Because classes were held online, students were able to attend class from basically any location; most commonly, from their dorm rooms. 

One perk to this type of learning was that less stress was placed upon students to wake up early and walk to classes because many had the luxury of rolling out of bed and turning on their computer to attend classes. While there are differing opinions among students as to the effectiveness of and preference for online learning compared to in-person learning, one thing is clear: The attendance policy for online classes last year was very different.

Champlain College made the executive decision that all classes would be held in-person for the 2021-2022 academic year and that all classroom expectations from previous years would be put into place once again with the addition of requiring masking in all of the buildings on campus (although it is in speculation that masking rules may be lifted in the weeks following spring break). For most students, this was great news because they had missed out on in-person connections and opportunities that weren’t available to them last year. 

But, what about students still worried about Covid-19? What about immunocompromised individuals? What about students who preferred the online format? These individuals have simply complied.

Several professors reported that they are not advised to allow any virtual attendance components for the students enrolled in their courses. The college does not explicitly state this policy anywhere. When a student is sick, they are advised by the college not to come to class and to get tested at the testing center if they are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. Due to professors allegedly being advised to not allow virtual attendance components, students who are sick may not be able to attend class, even when advised to stay home. To some, this might seem fair, but to others, it might not. 

In almost all ways, Champlain College has created its policies around CDC recommendations. The View, Champlain College’s blog recently stated in a March 2022 update that the college will be upholding its masking policy despite the CDC’s recent guidance about mask use. The View also states, “As a reminder, if you are not feeling well and/or are experiencing symptoms, including mild symptoms, you should stay home and get tested.”

So, if a student has COVID-19-like symptoms or contracts COVID-19, they are advised by the college to stay home and get tested. Current CDC guidelines advise anyone who is tested positive for COVID-19 and has COVID-19 symptoms should isolate for five days. A typical school week for a Champlain student consists of five days; therefore, students would have to miss a full week of classes if they test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms. 

While missing only one week of school may not seem like that big of a deal, it can still be detrimental to academic success, especially when many students are not permitted to attend class virtually in the case of sickness.. While many professors and staff at Champlain are understanding and accommodating to students, there is nothing in campus policy that significantly helps both students and staff to make these decisions about class attendance. 

Additionally, many professors have attendance policies in place, enforcing the idea that students can not miss a specific amount of classes over the course of the semester. The line between an excused and unexcused absence is not clear.

It is commendable that the college has followed CDC guidelines and promotes health safety for Champlain students, but the fact that there are no alternatives set in place to accommodate students that follow these health guidelines is questionable and lacks transparency. Advising instructors to not allow virtual attendance restricts the opportunity for individuals who are experiencing health-related problems to participate in class and learn in the same capacity. 

There are also many moral and ethical perspectives to consider. For some students who are immunocompromised or have close contacts who are immunocompromised, the threat of being infected with Covid-19 or other sicknesses is even more serious. Attending class can be anxiety-inducing and—especially if sick—incredibly taxing both physically and mentally. 

It is also frustrating for students who have been exposed to Covid-19 or are sick with other illnesses because they feel that it is more ethical for them to rest and stay away from others to decrease the chance of spreading sickness. When these individuals make commendable decisions to stay home and rest rather than risk getting others sick, they are missing out on meaningful educational experiences. Furthermore, it is important to note that a lot of students would probably say that they prefer to be in person if they felt that they could be because of their experiences (or lack thereof) last year. 

During this time of uncertainty, everybody has reacted in different ways and has differing comfortability levels regarding Covid-19 guidelines. Although the college has decided to be proactive with allowing more in-person opportunities to try and make up for opportunities that were lost last year, the college has also restricted the liberties of certain individuals. These individuals include those who don’t feel comfortable being in-person or those who have been exposed to or contracted Covid-19 who are following CDC guidelines and/or feel a moral obligation to stay at home so as not to endanger others.

While in-person opportunities foster academic success, boost good morale, and enhance relationship building, the college should work closer with faculty, staff, and students to account for students who are prioritizing their personal health, the health of others, and their education at Champlain College. In this way, the college can provide more fair, alternative options regarding attendance policies. And, with speculation as to whether or not the college will decide to remove the indoor mask mandate in the month of April, the college will have the opportunity to listen to more student opinions regarding Covid-19 related policies.