I just received an email from an undergrad student in a course that I am teaching. The student informed me that his girlfriend's father passed away, and so he will be unable to attend my class because he "needs to stay with her to help her with official processes related to her father's death". (I am paraphrasing what he wrote.)
This is the first time that a student has raised this as a reason for missing a class.
Question: Is the death of a girlfriend's father a reasonable excuse for a student to miss a class?
Here's how I am thinking about it:
- The death of an immediate family member is a significant event. If the student experienced the death of an immediate family member, there's no question to me that this would be a reasonable excuse for missing a class.
- However, in this case, it's not the student who is experiencing the death of an immediate family member, but his girlfriend. I understand that for university students, a girlfriend/boyfriend can be extremely important.
- I don't think my university policy allows a student to miss quizzes/exams due to the death of a relative of the student's significant other, so I am assuming that the same policy would apply for missing classes. However, I have a nagging feeling that if I were to deny his request, I would be a "bad" or "unreasonable" teacher. (Note: I mistakenly wrote "due to the death of the student's significant other" earlier but I fixed this mistake.)
Response to comments/questions
Due to COVID-19, the course is run virtually using Zoom.
A few weeks before the start of the semester, I inherited this course from a colleague who received reducing teaching load because he was assigned additional administrative tasks. I am therefore trying to run the course how he set it up in the past. The attendance policy which he set, and is included in the syllabus, is that if students miss 2 or more classes, they will automatically fail the course.
In addition, students do receive a small amount of points for attendance and participation.
The course is conducted using a seminar course format rather than a traditional lecture format. For all classes except the first class, students present their work, and other students ask questions and give feedback and suggestions. Due to the seminar course format, it makes some sense to me why my colleague required a high level of attendance to pass the course.
I found what the university policy says regarding excused absences for exams or coursework:
A death certificate and supporting documentation where there is a demonstrably close relationship between the student and the deceased.
What I learned and what I decided to do
- Ultimately I decided to excuse the student from that particular class.
- It was pointed out that attendance and participation only counts for a very small number of marks in the overall course assessment. Therefore, I should not waste time and effort overthinking this issue. (In the case where the student were absent for an exam or major course assignment, I would have to follow official procedures to handle the student's issue.)
- It was also pointed out that students may be strongly emotionally affected by events that occur not only to their immediate family or to their married spouses, but also to their significant others or close friends/relatives or even their pets.
- Finally, it is a hassle to take attendance, so in future courses, it would make my life easier and less stressful if attendance was not considered in the course assessment.