For many students at King’s and Dalhousie, missing a class means more than just asking around for notes.
It’s not uncommon for undergraduate professors to base between 10 and 20 per cent of a student’s grade on their attendance and in-class participation. In these classes, students are required to provide sick notes directly from a doctor or nurse in order to avoid the penalty to their final grades.
In recent years, students and faculty alike have brought forward an issue with this system – it doesn’t account for the mental health of the students.
In response to this issue, the Faculty of Computer Science at Dal has launched a pilot project. Professors in the department now allow students to self-declare absences through an online form.
Although it does not apply to midterms, final assignments or exams, the self-declared sick note eliminates the student from having to justify absences to their professors – so long as their illness is legitimate.
“This document enables students to take responsibility for reporting their own absence due to short-term illness or distress, thus alleviating problems that are associated with current practices around sick notes,” the form reads.
The document excuses students from class without experiencing the possible burden of retrieving a physician’s note.
A self-declaration of absence can only be submitted twice per term. The declaration allows 1-3 consecutive days off.
“If a student is not feeling particularly well on a given day, they can let the instructor know through these self-declaration notes that there was a medical reason for them to not attend a lecture or lab, or not being able to participate in some activity, or as a way to get any required extensions on some assignment deliverables,” said Raghav Sampangi, Computer Science instructor.
“It is important for all of us to take care of ourselves and take time off work and classes through recovery,” he added.
While this new method is still in the works, Sampangi is hopeful the project will continue.
“I think we will have a better idea [of this project] by the end of the term, and students will have had more opportunities to use it,” said Sampangi.
The sick note problem
Since the self-declaration project is still limited to a single department within the school, students in other departments still face challenges when it comes to dealing with their health and their studies.
For those who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, stress and depression, it can be difficult justifying an absence and obtaining a doctor’s note can be a daunting task.
“Anxiety isn’t a one-time thing – it is a crippling phenomenon,” said third-year biology major, Georgia Poletes.
Poletes experienced her share of hardships during the Foundation Year Programme after requesting time off due to an overwhelming amount of stress.
She explained that students who suffered from pneumonia were immediately granted extensions, though she was denied. Poletes was told that stress is a commonality students experience in university, and she should have committed herself more to the program.
“The feeling of denial stops you from reaching out ever again, and creates a barrier between you and the world,” Poletes said.
Student health services offer on-campus physicians and nurses to write sick notes for those who come forward with their illness.
“Documentation will only be provided for students who have been under the continuous care of a physician, registered nurse, social worker, psychologist/counselor, or psychiatrist for management of verifiable long-term or chronic physical or mental health conditions,” said Director of Student Wellness, Emily Huner.
Students are urged to use the services provided to them. If students are suffering, talking to someone can help – even if it is a friend or counselor.