I am currently working as a teaching assistant for several courses in STEM in the US at the college level.
During the past two semesters since Covid19 started, I have noticed that whenever a deadline is approaching, on or close to the day of the deadline, a student will inevitably email the instructors (including the TAs) an email requesting deadline extension due to the loss of a relative, which in turn has affected their mental states ("feeling stressed or depressed").
Note that the death of a relative is a common but not the only scenario. We had another student who claimed to test positive for Covid on the due day, but curiously only requested a 48 hour extension to a deadline...While other students simply said something about being stressed out (by jobs, by other courses) and then immediately followed up with some suggested due dates which we should accommodate for the student (or the entire class).
In all these cases, the student has not obtained a doctor's note, which is the appropriate/standard way of requesting for extension. There has been no change to this policy since Covid.
Since we need to approve the extensions and quickly, these sorts of emails always put us in a very tricky situation:
- it seems inappropriate to question about whether if a death has actually occurred, how the person is related to the student, or when it has occurred. We just take these claims to be true despite the scant details.
- since the situation affects a relative, but not the student him/herself, therefore, this situation is often not distressful enough to have a formal doctor's note, i.e., serious depression or disability. So we would seem rude to send the student to go through this formal and often lengthy process, especially at a time where reaching a doctor is probably inconvenient for many.
I am not sure what is the most appropriate way of dealing with these situation. And I have to stress we have not had this issue before Covid (I've been doing this for years). But this year we're dealing with this on a biweekly basis.
Can experienced instructors chime in on how we can be considerate to the student's personal lives while also hold on to our standards and be vigilant with academic dishonesty?
Should we just let these things go?
Thanks all for the replies, here is a follow up:
it is multiple students, at the beginning of the year it would be 3-4 students per course, but now I guess when the semesters are heating up, its up to 8 - 12 students (for the two courses combined).
it is different students. With about 3 "recurring" students this semester. I haven't paid too much attention to their names.
the problem here are not the medical concerns or emotional stress, but the lack of formal certificate or a proof. We have been giving these extensions like freebies throughout the semester(s) but the assignments now have more weights and we want to be vigilant.
one of the course is my PI's course and I'm sort of the main contact person and we have been conducting this course for many years. The other course I'm the "lead" TA, so again I oversee a lot of these issues. The impact ultimately hits the TAs, as we need to account for all these asynchronous extensions/grading/accommodations.
For one of the course, we have a "we will aggregate the skipped assignment in your exam" policy. Students know this. The reason why they are requesting extension is because they do not want it to be aggregated. The other course we have been giving them 1 time extensions (even though its not in the course policy) and at least one student is requesting extension after the 1 time extension has been used.