Absence policy proposed for student-parents

A proposed addition to the excused absence policy would allow parents to miss class to take care of their sick children.

Absences for participating in sports, jury duty and verified illness are considered excused under the current University of Minnesota policy, but now student-parents are working to add taking care of their sick children to the list. The Council of Graduate Students has gained the support of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly on a proposed addition to the excused absence policy allowing parents to miss class to take care of their sick children. GAPSA passed the policy in a unanimous vote Wednesday night. The policy would add to the University’s absence policy a provision allowing students to make up work and not be penalized for an absence due to the “sickness of minor dependents” if approved by administrators. COGS had previously voted unanimously to pass the policy. “Students voiced concerns and experiences that they have had to miss class because of children’s sickness, and sometimes they are being penalized because of that,” said Kelvin Choi, a COGS member and co-chairman of the Graduate Student Parent Caucus. “If playing intercollegiate sports is a legitimate excuse, I think taking care of your own child should at least be equally important.” About 22 percent of graduate students at the University are parents, Choi said, and that doesn’t include undergraduate or professional students. Although the policy was proposed by graduate and professional student groups, it would apply to undergraduate students as well, said Mandy Stahre, president of COGS. Now that COGS has GAPSA’s support on the resolution, the groups will be sending the proposal to University administrators, who must approve the policy before it is enacted. Currently, the proposed policy would not require parents to provide a doctor’s note for their children, which is the policy for a student absence due to sickness, and Choi said he hopes that requirement will not be added. “I think that’s something the University administrators should talk about, but we hope that [the policy] would be more inclusive,” he said. “There are situations where a minor sickness may not require medical attention, and sometimes parents don’t have the resources to go to seek medical care.” The resolution stemmed from the Graduate Student Parent Caucus, which was created in the fall of 2009 by COGS, to hear concerns and offer support to student parents. “We wanted to find out what concerns and barriers exist here at the U to complete their degree, and this came up as an issue more than once,” she said. “It’s not something people haven’t thought of before, but now we have a motivated group trying to get this done.” Creating a specific list of excused absences can cause more problems than it solves, said Brittany Lewis, co-chairwoman of the caucus and a graduate student parent, but since that’s the way the University handles its absence policy, she said student parents should be added. “I’m in the social sciences, so it’s extremely open, and I’m not the only person in the department with a child,”she said. “But for most students that aren’t in programs like mine, that’s just not the case. Some fields don’t know how to deal with it or don’t feel like they should have to bend their own standards to accommodate [parents].” Choi and his wife are expecting their first child, and he said that was the main reason he got involved in the caucus and is working to pass this policy. “Student parents are a big population that has kind of fallen through the cracks,” he said. “A lot of graduate students are just struggling to keep the water below their eyebrows.”