UI drops H1N1 policy


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When students flip through their syllabuses this semester, they won’t find the H1N1 absence policy that the UI implemented in the fall.

University officials have eliminated the policy, which allowed students to miss class without penalty at the first sign of flu-like symptoms.

“We will return to our old policy, which has always allowed students to miss class because of illness and family emergency,” said Beth Ingram, an associate provost for undergraduate education.

University officials consulted with the Johnson County Public Health Department, she said.

The difference between the two policies, she said, is faculty members’ ability to use their own discretion on how to handle absences.

Last semester, the UI asked students to fill out illness-absence form to give to their professors if they missed classes because of H1N1 or flu-like symptoms. Professors could not penalize students for the time missed.

“I missed a week of class while I was sick,” UI senior Vanessa Loew said. “My teachers were fine with it; some of them didn’t even make me fill out the form.”

The university did not require teachers to count the number of forms they received, so the school does not have a record of how many students took advantage of the policy.

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Students may still miss classes because of illness. But they will no longer have a blanket university policy — they instead must adhere to attendance guidelines stated in each course’s syllabus.

“I recommend that students are very clear about absence policies for each class at the beginning of the semester to avoid problems,” Ingram said.

When the previous policy was in place, students with symptoms were asked to stay home and avoid going to Student Health unless those symptoms became severe. Students could return to classes and public spaces 24 hours after they had no fever.

Though the policy has changed, Student Health recommends that ill students follow the same courses of actions.

Because Student Health doesn’t test for the virus and many students didn’t seek medical attention, officials did not record the number of UI students, staff, and faculty members who contracted H1N1.

“The numbers have definitely settled down,” said Lisa James, the Student Health administrative director. “The virus has quieted down across the state and even across the country.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Iowa as a “sporadic” state, meaning small numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases have been reported and there has been no increase in the number of influenza-like illnesses reported.

Last semester, Student Health provided nearly 2,700 H1N1 vaccines at its facility and through campus flu clinics. Flu vaccines will be available again this week.

“The new policy should be fine,” James said. “If something changes, everyone on campus will respond.”

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