Novel coronavirus information

February 7, 2022

Accommodations and flexibility for students (Message to Seattle campus deans and chairs)

This message was sent to deans and chairs on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.

Dear colleagues,

Although this continues to be a challenging time for our community, we hope that you are finding the transition back to a more in-person experience a mostly positive one. The campus feels more vibrant and active, and it’s been nice re-connecting with colleagues and students, often through a mix of teaching and learning modalities.

We’ve been receiving some feedback from both instructors and students that there is some confusion about the kinds of “accommodations” instructors are expected to make if a student is unable to come to a class that is being taught primarily in person. We’re writing to provide clarity on those expectations, understanding that you are already managing many of these situations on a case-by-case basis based on the needs of specific programs and courses. Thank you for doing so!

One source of confusion has to do with the difference between a disability accommodation and flexibility provided to students who are absent due to illness. Disability accommodations are requested through Disability Resources for Students (DRS). These ADA accommodations are for students with specific and diagnosable issues to allow these students to participate equitably in their classes. For example, the DRS-approved accommodation for a student with a learning disability may include providing course materials in an accessible form or extra time on exams. DRS accommodations were available pre-pandemic and continue to be available in every quarter, whether classes are largely online or in person. These accommodations are considered carefully in a personalized, interactive process between student, instructor and DRS. They are also mostly unrelated to COVID, although COVID may be exacerbating some of these issues.

What is more likely to be related to COVID is a higher number of student absences. In order to keep the more transmissible Omicron variant in check, we continue to ask students to not attend in-person classes if they have any reason to suspect that they might have COVID. So, a rather routine wintertime bout of sneezing or coughing can and should cause a student to stay home until they can get tested. We also realize there may be other constraining factors, such as daycare or school closures, being immunocompromised, or experiencing high levels of anxiety. However, this does not mean that instructors need to provide access to synchronous online participation, although we certainly appreciate it when they can.

For students experiencing absences due to illness, examples of alternative ways of completing class activities and examinations are outlined in the Scholastic Regulations. These alternatives can include make-up exams or supplemental work judged by the instructor to be equivalent to the missed assignment. Other alternatives to making course materials available to students who are absent include recording classes and making those recordings available online for a few days following the class. Another option is to have a note taker in class and provide students with any presentations or slides that are used in class together with the notes.

For students who miss assignments or exercises that can only take place in person, we urge instructors to provide alternate ways of making up for those assignments, for example by writing a paper based on class readings. In this same manner, we urge instructors who provide students with credit or extra credit points for class participation to provide students who are absent with alternative ways of earning credit, such as writing a paper or answering additional exam questions.

We would encourage you to discuss these and other options with your instructors, consistent with the unique needs of specific programs and courses. An important goal is to not inadvertently create incentives for students to attend class when they are or might be ill.

Please know how much your efforts are appreciated! We are always stronger together, and must prevail in providing opportunity, excellence and access as a great public university. Thank you all for your continued hard work and understanding as we find our way forward collectively.


Mark A. Richards
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Earth and Space Sciences

Philip J. Reid
Vice Provost for Academic & Student Affairs
Professor of Chemistry