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Though getting sick and having to miss class is a stressful experience for all students, some Ross School of Business juniors are especially worried about how it could impact their grades this fall. Despite the University’s five-to-10-day isolation policy for students who contract COVID-19, Business juniors get only three absences per semester in the majority of their classes before they face potential academic consequences. 

Last year, the Business School made special exceptions for Business students who tested positive, but that clause has since been removed from the 2022 syllabi. All Business juniors participate in the Ross Integrative Semester (RIS). Through RIS, each student is enrolled in four mandatory core courses and must complete a culminating entrepreneurial project by the end of the term.

The 2022 RIS syllabus, which outlines general policies for all of the classes juniors must take, states that students are allowed one absence from their Business Communication course and three absences from the other core courses during the semester.

“In the rare case that you must miss more than the allotted number of classes, you must contact your instructor as soon as possible,” the syllabus reads. “The decision to excuse you from class is at the discretion of faculty.” 

Some students, including one Business junior who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of academic retribution, tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of classes. According to emails the student received from faculty after reporting their absence, the student’s isolation period used up two of their three excused absences.

The student, who will be referred to as Sam, tested positive Monday afternoon and had to stay home the rest of the week. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Sam said when they looked at their syllabi for the attendance policy, they were shocked by the lack of leniency during the ongoing pandemic.

“I don’t understand why there’s zero COVID exceptions, because we’re definitely expected to not go to class if we’re sick,” Sam said.

The syllabus specifically lists religious obligations, funeral attendance and athletic travel as reasons students are likely to be excused from more than three classes; COVID-related absences are not listed.

That’s a change from last year, when RIS course syllabi specified that the three absence policy referred to absences for career recruiting, events and “non-COVID related illnesses.”  According to the 2021 RIS syllabi, students with COVID-19 were asked to email RIS faculty to get their illness-related absences excused separately, which is no longer an option to students this year.

The change is leaving students like Sam who contracted COVID-19 during the first week of classes concerned that their illness will count against their attendance record. With two strikes already,  and the possibility of  subsequent absences,  Sam fears for their participation grades in the future.

“I understand you’ll be fine if you only get COVID once, but then it’s so likely that someone might get COVID (again) or the flu or something crazy and miss two more classes,” Sam said.

Business junior Pari Patel said she does not see why the RIS policy was changed from last year’s while the University’s mandatory COVID-19 isolation policy remains in effect. She also emphasized that her professors are not recording classes this semester, potentially making it more difficult for students who are isolating to stay on top of their coursework.

“I do think there will be COVID outbreaks, so there should be separate absences in case you get sick,” Patel said. “Last year they recorded classes, too … but this year they don’t even do that.”

In the Fall 2020 semester, RIS students were allowed to attend class virtually without using up an absence if they were unable to come in person. That is not an option this year, as there is no way for students to join remotely. Though the RIS syllabus does not prohibit faculty from recording lectures, in emails obtained by The Daily from Business School faculty to COVID-positive students, 2022 RIS standards do not support sharing video lectures.

When asked to clarify whether or not RIS faculty can record lectures for sick students this fall, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen did not answer.

When asked about the policy in general, Broekhuizen said it aligns with University isolation guidelines. She said the University is encouraging faculty to be flexible with students who test positive for COVID-19 especially at the beginning of the year.

“On a decentralized campus, there is of course variability between schools and colleges on how absences are discussed and handled,” Broekhuizen said. “Faculty are encouraged to be flexible in their expectations as community health conditions continue to evolve, particularly over the first few weeks of the semester.”

Still, Sam said they are not confident they would be able to miss a RIS class again this semester without penalty. It’s a Catch-22 situation, though, Sam said, because their course syllabi also suggest they could be punished for coming to class in person if they are sick. In each of the individual syllabi for RIS courses, except for Business Communications, there is a shared “Health and Safety” section, which asks students to adhere to campus health and safety measures. If students violate those measures and come to RIS classes sick, they may also face academic repercussions, according to their syllabi.

“Your ability to participate in your courses in-person as well as your grade may be impacted by failure to comply with campus safety measures,” the syllabi reads.

Sam said they are concerned the combination of these policies will lead Business students to not take COVID-19 tests if they have mild symptoms or have knowingly been exposed to the virus.

“I definitely think people are going to go to class with COVID,” Sam said. “When I told my friend I had COVID, she was like, ‘I’m just never going to take another COVID test.’”

With Washtenaw County at a medium transmission community level and University COVID-19 isolation housing at 40% occupancy after the first week of classes, the virus continues to be present in the campus community. While testing is not required for most students this fall, University officials have been continuing to encourage tests to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

When asked whether the Business School is at all concerned that the policy might encourage students to attend class in spite of illness or refrain from testing, Broekhuizen did not answer.

None of those recommendations will be effective, though, if students believe they have to make a choice between their grades and their health, Sam said.

“Ross is definitely more strict than some other schools,” Sam said. “I don’t really see how it’s contributing to our education.”

Daily News Editor Roni Kane can be reached at ronikane@umich.edu.