Flexibility in Attendance

Students are expected to follow the attendance policy established by the instructor in each class. However some students with disabilities may be approved for an accommodation of consideration for absences due to a disability which may require the development of a modified attendance agreement for a student in a specific course.

Generally these students have disabilities which are chronic or episodic in nature which may cause difficulties with regular class attendance. This might include, but is not limited to, students with diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, migraines and conditions requiring on-going or specialized medical treatment. Students with psychological disabilities who are experiencing an exacerbation of symptoms may also request modification of attendance policies.

Federal law requires colleges and universities to consider reasonable modification of attendance policies if needed to accommodate a student’s disability. In making this determination, two questions must be answered:

  1. Does the student have a documented disability that directly affects his/her ability to attend class on a regular basis? (AAS will make this determination based on a review of documentation from the student’s physician or psychologist).
  2. Is attendance an essential part of the class? Would modification of attendance policies result in a fundamental alteration of the curriculum? (Instructors make this determination in consultation with AAS).

​Determining If and How Many Disability‐Related Absences are Reasonable 

In a legal decision by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Case no. 09-96-2150 (OCR Region IX, 1996), attendance policies and classroom participation were addressed.  OCR noted that it accords significant deference to a college's determination that attendance is essential in a particular course.  Several factors were presented that OCR would consider in a given challenge to determine that attendance was essential:

  1. Is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students and among students?
  2. Do student contributions constitute a significant component of the learning process?
  3. Does the fundamental nature of the course rely on student participation as an essential method for learning?
  4. To what degree does a student’s failure to attend constitute a significant loss to the educational experience of other students in the class?
  5. What do the course description and syllabus say?
  6. Which method is used to calculate the final grade?
  7. What are the classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?

(Adapted from "Recent Legal Decisions" Jeanne Kincaid, Esq. and Southern University - Carbondale, Disability Support Services)

References & Resources

  • Questions and Answers on Disability Discrimination under Section 504 and Title II.  Retrieved July 1, 2015, 
  • Maczaczyj v. New York, 956 F.Supp. 403, 11 NDLR ¶ 59 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (upholding requirement of in-person residency; participation by phone constituted fundamental alteration of program)
  • University of Illinois, 30 NDLR 104, Case No. 05-04-2078 (OCR Region V 2004) (OCR found no fault with an instructor’s announced policy of failing any student who missed in excess of ten classes; evidence adduced that policy was applied to non-disabled students as well)
  • Seattle University (WA), Case No. 10-03-2050, 27 NDLR ¶ 321 (OCR Region X 2003) (law school articulated legitimate educational rationale for requiring classroom attendance)
  • Metropolitan State College (CO), Case No. 08-98-2013, 15 NDLR ¶ 92 (OCR Region VIII 1998) (upholding accounting department's refusal to relax attendance policy after engaging in deliberative process and concluding such would result in fundamental alteration based of program)
  • Cabrillo Community College (CA), Case No. 09-96-2150 (OCR Region IX 1996) (essentiality of attendance decided on case-by-case basis in light of class requirements and methodology; when attendance is not essential, college should consider taping classes for students whose disabilities prevent attendance)