Change the Simon's Rock Attendance Policy

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The current attendance policy at Bard College at Simon's Rock, as outlined in the 2017-2018 Catalogue and the Student Handbook, states that one may only miss one week's worth of class (designated by the number of hours of class time per week). While at first this seems fairly reasonable, as Simon's Rock community members, it has become clear that this policy has several flaws.

Due to the current attendance policy, both creators of this petition as well as countless other members of the student body have been forced to attend class sick or in the midst of a mental health crisis, worsening their own health and/or risking the health of their classmates. Speaking to professors about the necessity for additional absences often puts students in the uncomfortable position of requesting the "breaking" of a rule to an authority figure, and possibly having to share personal information to "prove" the necessity of the absence.

Our grievances are as follows:

1. One is only able to miss class when sick for one week's worth of classes. This means that becoming ill enough to miss class for three or more days in one week uses all available class "skips" for some classes but not others. Example: if sick enough to miss classes Tuesday through Thursday, one is out of "skips" for classes that only meet Tuesday and Thursday, but not classes that meet Monday and Wednesday (or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). If one takes ill again on a Tuesday or Thursday later in the semester, they will be unable to miss classes again. The consequence of this is that illness more than once in one semester is grounds for expulsion from a course.

2. Because of this, students will often attend class when sick unless they are physically unable to do so. The rationale behind this is a fear of using class "skips" in case they become more sick later in the semester. This means that they are more likely to get other students and professors sick or worsen their own condition.

3. Extremely serious and contagious illnesses are especially liable to spread around campus due to this policy. This semester (Spring 2018), the flu--which is especially serious and widespread this year--has spread around campus at an alarming rate. Students will often come to class with the flu for the reasons stated above; Health Services is now requiring Leaves of Absence for those with the flu, but students will attempt to take as short a Leave as possible or not get tested for the flu at all (and therefore not take a Leave). This is because the College's strict attendance policy promotes a culture that condemns absence from class. Students are often afraid that a Leave will go on "too long" in the College's view and that they will be unable to complete their classes, or that certain professors may individually look less favorably upon them or their knowledge of the course material.

4. In addition to a lack of leniency for physical illness (a common rhetoric on campus when asking for excused absences when sick is "this is what we have 'skips' for"), the current attendance policy fails to take mental health into account. If one is physically sick just once in a semester, as described above, that accounts for their entire ability to miss class. This means that students are often reluctant to take days off for their mental health for fear of using days they may need later for physical illness. In some cases, missing class due to mental health is not a choice, which can also affect the number of "skips" available for physical illness. Mental health emergencies are penalized by the attendance policy. This also promotes a culture in which physical health is prioritized over mental health, which is especially problematic on an academically rigorous and often mentally/emotionally taxing college campus.

5. Health Services currently is unable to give individual excused absences during shorter periods of mental or physical health crises; this even includes absences for off-campus doctor's appointments.

 

We believe that there are two simple solutions to these five grievances. 

Our proposed solutions are as follows:

1. Health Services should have the ability to give individual excused absences from classes for mental or physical health purposes. This would increase students' ability to seek off-campus help, prevent the spread of short-term illnesses, and show solidarity and understanding from the administration to students in health crisis. This also negates the need for students to request additional absences from professors, avoiding the uncomfortable situation of having to request the breaking of a rule or sharing personal medical or other information.

2. Standard class absence policy should be more than one week's worth of class. We propose six hours of allocated unexcused absences for classes (equivalent to two weeks' worth of class time for most courses). This allows for more ability to miss class when sick and/or take mental health days as necessary.

These two points in tandem will send a clear message to the student body that their health and wellness are the College's priority. No student should feel that they are required to compromise their health for the purpose of "academic excellence."

--Sam Jones, Noelle Iati, and the Simon's Rock Community as Signed Below



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