Winter weather woes justify flexible attendance policy

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By William Muller, Contributor

Plow sideswipes bus. Multiple injuries sustained in six-vehicle crash. Car hits, flips van on busy street.

Winter weather headlines conjure a grim collage of dangerous moments on Omaha’s glacial highways. And yet, despite the hazards, school isn’t canceled every time the roads become impassible, and you’re expected to show up.

On the first day of the semester we were expecting six to eight inches of fluff.  By Sunday evening every other school in the city had closed, but at UNO, classes were planned to go on as scheduled. When we got more snow than expected, classes were finally canceled.  For many students, it made no difference whether it snowed six inches or a foot.  They wouldn’t or couldn’t show up either way.

A typical winter season has a number of days when you might feel better off staying at home. Conditions on these days are bad, but typically not severe enough to cancel classes. That makes sense.  What doesn’t is penalizing students who have a difficult time getting to class or those who feel the trip isn‘t worth the risk.

Maybe it would be a lot simpler if most of the student body resided on the campus.  However, most UNO students commute to and from campus and have to contend with long distance drives or gritty rural roads.  These factors should be considered when it comes to enforcing attendance policies, especially during this time of the year. 

Just a few absences can drop your grade regardless of your performance in exams, quizzes and regular class work.  It’s a double penalty – watching your grade drop as you work to keep caught up in class.

It’s true that some classes require considerably more participation than others.  But in many cases like in many lecture-based classes, participation is not required on a regular basis.

One reason some say an attendance policy is needed is because it helps students get used to showing up for work consistently after they graduate. There’s a big difference between work and university. When you go to school, you’ve paid for your chair and all the time that you can fit into one semester, however you choose to use or squander it.       

While a strict attendance policy may help motivate some lackadaisical students to go to class more often, it creates a pitfall for those who care about their grades but face a difficult commute in the winter. 

It’s only fair that we look into building some flexibility into the attendance guidelines.

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