Flu delcarations at 2,200

In response to concerns of an H1N1 influenza pandemic, Laurier has created a online form that allows students and faculty to declare flu symptoms and excuse themselves from classes or exams without obtaining medical validation.

As of Nov. 30, there have been 2,200 declarations of flu-like symptoms on Laurier’s H1N1 pandemic registration database by 1,776 members of the school community. The number of those who declared symptoms on one or more occasion since the system began in early October is equal to 12 per cent of Laurier’s total student enrollment.

According to assistant vice-president of academic services Tom Buckley, the system in place came as a result of a request from administration and Health Services for a means of allowing students to report flu-related absences.

“Requiring students to speak to medical practitioners to get notes, often after they are already well, had the potential to prevent healthcare providers from helping sick people,” said Buckley.

“Why not in this instance give the students a mechanism to self-report that wouldn’t require them to leave home or burden the [healthcare] system after the fact?”

Laurier is not unique in offering this type of system in response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Rates of hospitalization and death continue to rise in Canada, according to the World Health Organization.

“We’ve had calls from other universities in Ontario asking us to share our solution with them,” remarked Buckley about Laurier’s program.

“An advantage to this system was to provide more reasonable numbers to Public Health….I think Public Health appreciates that we can provide figures and inform them of the situation on campus.”

Though 2,200 may sound like a high number of reports, Buckley noted that there is no “comparator because we haven’t done this sort of thing before, with regular seasonal flu for example.”

With the implementation of this new system for illness and absence declaration, students no longer need a doctor’s note to be excused from class or assignments if they declare flu-like symptoms.

“It’s a question of having faith in student self-reporting,” noted Buckley.
Second-year psychology student Alana Lancione missed classes and midterms when she was ill earlier this semester. Through declaring her illness online, Lancione was excused from the missed midterms and, after receiving medication for H1N1, recovered.

Lancione was able to avoid exposing other students to the virus by registering her condition, but she speculated that others may have taken advantage of the system. “I think people should have had to go through the clinic to register themselves.”

The Cord spoke with a first-year general arts student who also declared symptoms online.
However, he denied ever thinking he had H1N1; when asked if he showed any symptoms as outlined on the H1N1 registration website, he replied, “I only had a cough.”

He elaborated, “I didn’t have to write two midterms and missed a lot of classes. It was really easy; I pretty much didn’t have to do anything. After you miss your classes and midterms you just fill out the ‘swine form.’”

The WLU Student Flu Absence Declaration Form that these students have completed contains a section of the text that reads, “I understand and acknowledge that making a false declaration would constitute academic misconduct and could be subject to sanctions under the Academic Integrity Policies of the University.”

Buckley explained that since those who declare symptoms are logging in to the system and indicating that they have read and understand the content, “From an academic regulation, it is binding. If you say you that you have [symptoms] and you have none, then that could be problematic if you are challenged.”

The first-year student who declared swine flu said that he had no real concern he would be caught.

“I thought about it a little bit but it seemed too easy.” When asked if he thought Laurier did the right thing in offering this option to students he replied, “I guess so, but that’s only because it helped me out.”

He also indicated that he knew of many other students who had taken advantage of the system as he had.

Despite reported cases of students misusing of the flu declaration form, Buckley still defends the system and those who use it for its intended purpose.

“It’s important to recognize that vast majority of students will use the solution in the way it was intended,” said Buckley.

“We are all adults; students are members of an academic community. Here’s what we’ve provided as a mechanism for students and faculty to work out assessments in what are somewhat extraordinary circumstances.”