Faculty teaching at most colleges and universities consider attendance and participation mandatory. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly stipulates academic accommodations and adjustments must not alter essential features or requirements of courses, it also protects students with disabilities from discrimination. Please refer to the guidelines below from the Office of Civil Rights decision regarding Cabrillo Community College, Case No. 09-96-2150 (OCR Region IX 1996) in determining whether attendance is an essential aspect of a course:
1. Is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students, and among students? Do student contributions constitute a significant component of the learning process? Does the fundamental nature of the course rely upon student participation as an essential method for learning?
- To what degree does a student’s failure to attend constitute a significant loss to the educational experience of other students in the class?
- What do the course description and syllabus say?
- Which method is used to calculate the final grade?
- And what are the classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?
2. After these factors have been examined, a reasoned judgment should be made about whether a waiver of the course attendance requirement would be acceptable.
3. Pay attention to possible claims of differential treatment. Occasionally, a professor has a strict attendance policy on paper but has modified it for others. It is important to consider any exceptions you may have made; either to your own policy or that of the program/school, especially for nondisabled students (athletes, death in the family, unplanned surgery, flu outbreak, etc…)
4. Regardless of the outcome, the deliberative process should be well documented, so that others who were not involved in the process can understand the alternatives considered and the reasons for the final decision.