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U of C scraps medical note requirement for absences, deferrals

By Ashar Memon, September 14 2018 —

University of Calgary students needing to excuse class absences or defer exams and coursework are no longer required to provide medical notes, the university announced last week.

If asked by professors to provide documentation for any reason, students can now choose from a range of options, including filling out a statutory declaration form and getting it signed by an on-campus Commissioner of Oaths.

Vice-provost student experience Susan Barker, who helped lead implementation of the policy, said the decision was made to reduce barriers for students and ease the burden on medical professionals.

“We think it’s a major step forward for students,” Barker said. “Other institutions are going to be doing it. It’s not a matter of if they’re going to do it, it’s just a matter of when.”

The University of Alberta implemented a similar policy nearly a decade ago, as have a few other universities across Canada. Similarly, Ontario passed a law in 2017 that banned employers from asking for sick notes from their employees.

Students’ Union vice-president academic Jessica Revington hailed the changes for improving accessibility.

“This is great for students,” Revington said. “For students who are struggling and need extra support, this is another option for them to get documentation that helps them receive the support that they need.”

Barker mentioned that fees associated with medical notes were among the barriers the policy will address. The U of C Wellness Centre, for instance, charges $25–35 for medical notes, according to their website. 

Students can still provide medical notes as supporting documentation if they wish but faculty members cannot ask for them specifically. As an alternative, students can print out a statutory declaration form available on the U of C’s website and go to one of the 23 Commissioners of Oaths on campus to have it signed.

Barker said that moments of crisis like the 2013 Alberta floods and the 2014 Brentwood murders — when the U of C allowed deferrals for all students without documentation — were “turning points” for the university’s stance on medical note requirements.

“We just helped students in a difficult situation and the sky did not fall in,” she said. “Then it was like, ‘You know what, why can’t we just do this on a regular basis?’ ”

According to a UToday article, the changes were approved by the U of C in June 2018, after over two years of consultation with students and faculty.

“Occasionally people might say, ‘Well, this might compromise our integrity,’ and we assured them through what we were offering — and models from other institutions — that we didn’t think that that was going to be an issue,” Barker said of the consultation process.

She added that the policy will continue to be refined with feedback.

“There will be teething problems when we introduce any new policy, any regulation,” Barker said. “There’s always some fine-tuning of documents that we need to do to get better clarity and we’re doing that as we go.”

Meanwhile, students have already begun filling out their statutory declarations. The first student had their form signed on campus last Tuesday.

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