Accommodation of special student needs

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we are requred to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities so that they can have access to the same education as non-disabled students. The The McBurney Disability Resource Centeris responsible for determining what those reasonable accommodations are.

According to university policy, a disabled student who requires accommodation under the ADA is responsible for making his or her instructors aware of the type of accommodation required and to give the instructors ample time to make the accommodations. The McBurney Center provides each disabled student with a laminated card--called a "McBurney VISA"--that identifies the student as having a disability requiring certain accommodations, and it will state what those accommodations are.

It is important to be aware that, in many cases, the student will have an non-visible disability which may require that they be given longer time on exams, or that they be allowed to take exams alone in a separate room. It is important that you do not question the student's need for such accommodations.

You should make your lecturer aware of any students in your classes who require accommodations because it is up to the lecturer to make the necessary arrangements for exams. Some TAs and lecturers will make an announcement on the first day of class asking any McBurney students to stay after class to identify themselves.


According to university policy,

"mandatory academic requirements should not be scheduled on days when a religious observance may cause substantial numbers of students to be absent from university functions."

The lecturer should avoid scheduling exams, and you should avoid scheduling quizzes (or allow for make-ups) on some major Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays. To find out which major holidays fall under this category, see the current acadmic calendar.

If a student tells you that he or she cannot attend class on a particular day because of religious observance, and it is not one of the aforementioned holidays, you are expected to take the information on face value. Rather than questioning the legitimacy of the student's religious practices, try to come up with a way for the student to turn in work or take a quiz early if at all possible. The full policy on religious observance, and a link to many more religious holidays is available here.

Student Atheletes

A student-athelete who is going to miss class or be out of town on an exam date must give ample warning. The Athletics Department is pretty good about sending the student to you or the lecturer with an official letter listing the dates that the student will be missing, but it is always the student's responsibility to let you or the lecturer know. If a student-athlete in your class is going to be away on an exam date, let your lecturer know right away.

It is totally up to the lecturer whether to make any accommodations for a student-athlete. Sometimes instructors will arrange to give the exam/quiz to the coach so that the student can take it while on the road. For more information, see the Fetzer Student-Athlete Academic Center Frequently Asked Questions.

Exam Conflicts

Exam conflicts usually occur when the exam is scheduled in the evening and a student has an evening class or another evening exam. These conflicts should be dealt with by the lecturer for the course. If your lecture has evening exams, and you have a student with a conflict, then let the lecturer know as soon as possible. If possible, the lecturer should have had a footnote in the Timetable with the dates and times of all evening exams so that students could avoid such conflicts.

Officially, a regularly scheduled class takes precedence over an evening exam for a daytime class, but often other arrangements can be made. If a student has two evening midterm exams that conflict, the one that was published in the Timetable should take precedence. It is often an awkward situation for a student to have to ask two professors to provide an alternate exam time and get turned down by both, but such things have happened. Usually, in the math department, we try to work with the student on these issues.

The College of Letters and Science policy on midterm exam and final exam (summary block) conflicts may be found here.


If a student contacts you about an emergency situation that prevents him or her from attending class, turning in homework on time, or taking an exam or quiz, there are several things you can do. One option is to do nothing for the student (most of us don't choose this one). It is not productive to ask the student for proof of a medical emergency, because the University Health Center doesn't give out "doctor's notes." Other clinics may just provide a date and time that the student was seen, and no indication of whether they are/were able to take an exam. If it's an exam that the student has to miss, often the lecturer will drop that score and count the other exam scores or the final exam score more.

As a TA, you don't want to have to deal with deciding whether something was truly an emergency, and you don't want to have to accuse a student of being dishonest. It is best to plan ahead. Have a policy and stick to it. There is a way that you can have these potential emergencies (or non-emergencies) sort of built in to your syllabus. If the lecturer allows you this discretion, you can tell the students at the beginning of the semester that you will drop n of the lowest quiz scores and/or homework scores, where n is a positive (predetermined) integer. Make sure that you tell the students that this allows for medical emergencies as well as avoidable circumstances that you'd rather not hear about. Warn them that they should not use up these allotted n missing assignments by sleeping in. They should try to save them for those unavoidable circumstances or emergencies that inevitably come up.


[Also see Incomplete/Late Work, Missed quizzes, etc.]

Technically, you don't have to do anything for a student who misses an assignment or quiz for some avoidable reason and requests some sort of extension or make-up, but it is easier if you plan ahead for these things than to have to deal with them as they come up. Also, if you grant an extension or make-up quiz to one student for something that could have been avoided, you are asking for more headaches down the road. Try your best to be firm but understanding.

Common examples of non-emergency situations are travel home (a day early for Thanksgiving break, three days before the final for a sister's graduation, etc.), and scheduled appointments with a dentist or even an advisor (advisors don't make their advisees skip class to see them). If it's an exam that they miss or plan to miss, luckily you can pass the problem off to the lecturer, but remind the student that the final exam date was available to them when they registered for the course, and all exam and quiz dates are on the syllabus.

If it's a quiz or assignment that they'll be missing, and you have adopted the policy described in "Emergencies" above, you can tell the student that he or she is using up one of his or her n lowest scores. Often students think that if they let you know in advance, then it won't count against them, but that is when you remind them that this is not high school. When they make such choices, they must be prepared to live with the consequences.