Health center policy puts class attendance at risk

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Running a 102-degree fever isn’t the best way to start off a week. Sophomore Tierney Fortner woke up one morning feeling horrible and running a high fever. Fortner knew she had a busy academic week, and that she needed to see a doctor. Instead of walking over from her dorm to the SMU Dr. Bob Smith Health Center, she chose to go off campus for care, a diagnosis of strep throat and a note to miss class.

“I knew if I went to the health center they wouldn’t give me a note to miss class when I had a fever and strep throat,” Fortner said.

The health center’s policy on doctors’ notes requires students to go off-campus for treatment if they need paperwork for teachers to excuse an absence.

Kent Best, executive director of SMU News and Communications said health center fees are included in student fees for students both on-and-off campus.

The fees for both types of students are the same. Although those students are paying a fee, many still choose to visit off-campus urgent care centers instead of the health center because of the policy on notes. Sophomore Kate Lucenti had to go to urgent care for a note and paid out of pocket.

“It was (during) finals and I needed a note for class, so I went to urgent care and they charged me $400,” Lucenti said.

The health center officials declined to be interviewed for this story, however their website outlines their policies. The website encourages faculty to trust a student when they claim to be ill. But, some students think it’s unfair that the health center won’t give excuse notes.

“It’s extremely annoying when you’re sick and weak and you go out of your way to go to the health center and you don’t get a note,” Fortner said.

Most class syllabi state that a student must have a physician’s note in order for the absence to be considered excused. The health center provides a printable form on its website for students to give to faculty that states that they felt ill and went to the health center. Since the form is not signed by a doctor or nurse and is provided from the student, not all teachers will excuse the absence.

The University has policies in place that restrict students from class when they’re running a fever. Fliers are posted by SMU to inform students of what to do when feeling ill.

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SMU Health Center flier Photo credit: Charleigh Berry

“Policies say you can’t go to class unless you’re 24-hours fever free, but if they don’t give you a note to miss class, its unexcused,” Fortner said.

The difference between an unexcused and an excused absence is critical for students because excused absences allow students to make up the work they missed, whereas an unexcused does not. Lucenti went to urgent care after her exam, and the doctors’ note made a difference in her grade.

“Thankfully my professor let me get the doctor note after my exam. Otherwise I would’ve failed my final,” Lucenti said.

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