Senate OK’s student sick self-report

Students will be allowed to self-report absences twice in a school year without getting a doctor’s note, university Senate decided Friday.

Students have historically been required to get a signed doctor’s note – called a Student Medical Certificate – to vouch for an illness requiring them to delay a scheduled test or an assignment due date. But Senate was told Friday there has been a sharp increase in the number of students seeking these accommodations.

Excused absences have increased by 42 per cent in just a few years – ­to 26,000 last year, from 15,000 in 2014-15. Most of those absences involved a student medical certificate.

A report to Senate said the old process has represented additional burden on a health-care system that’s already overwhelmed and under-resourced. It also costs students about $500,000 year as they pay doctors’ fees for medical notes. “Students who do not have these financial resources are disadvantaged,” the report stated.

The old process also placed extra work on academic counselling units who process and evaluate the notes. The new policy would also help counsellors and doctors spend their time working with people instead of doing administrative paperwork.

“Allowing students access to some capacity to self-report absences was part of the recommendations put forward in the Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan in 2018. Further, freeing up counselling and medical appointments (by removing students who are simply seeking an Student Medical Certificate) is an important benefit, as it provides students with a way to reduce some of the stress related to illness or balancing competing demands,” the report to Senate stated.

The new policy, which will start in September, will allow undergraduates to self-report some absences of 48 hours or less for a maximum of two times per academic year (September to April).

They would still be required to get a doctor’s note before they receive permission to re-schedule final exams or any assignment worth more than 30 per cent of the course mark.

Student Sen. Riley Garno said this is an important step and offers more flexibility to students who are often reluctant to visit a doctor or counsellor when they’re physically or mentally unwell. “We should trust humans to know when they are not well. It’s amazing how many hoops you have to go through to prove you’re sick and you’re not lying.”

The change takes place following extensive consultation since 2016. Several other universities also have some version of a self-reported absence policy. It will be re-evaluated after a three-year trial period.

In other Senate action:

Fall Reading Week will still be cause for thanksgiving among Western students – but the week-long study/respite time won’t take place until after Thanksgiving.

Senate agreed having Fall Reading Week during Thanksgiving in mid-October was simply too early in the school term to benefit more than a small group of students. Instead, Fall Reading Week will begin on the third Monday after Thanksgiving, which will mean Fall Reading Week usually falls at the end of October or beginning of November.

In 2019, Fall Reading Week will take place Nov. 4 – 10. Canadian Thanksgiving is on October 14.

Western followed the lead of several other universities in adding a Fall Reading Week to help improve student preparation and mental health part-way through the first term and in preparation for exams.