University Lacks Medical Leave Policy

Brittany Hayes, Reporter

Many students face health problems each year – anything from sprained ankles to serious illnesses – but the university does not offer a traditional medical leave policy for students.

It might not be needed: Officials say they will work with students who are struggling with health problems.

Emergency medical leave traditionally enables students to withdraw from all classes until the medical emergency has ceased.

Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Affairs, said the university works with students on a one-on-one basis to determine the action that is of greatest benefit to the student.

She said students in an emergency should first contact the Dean of Student Affairs, and then the Dean, together with the student and his or her family, can work out a plan for class withdrawal until the student is healthy.

“This allows us to determine what is best for each individual student. I am not sure if we ever had an emergency medical leave,” said Foley.

Amy Lahart, Director of the Student Success Center, believes the university’s approach to medical leaves is best for students.

“When a student comes in, we attempt to work with the individual student’s needs. There’s a personalization that Misericordia does that’s very beneficial,” said Lahart.

Foley said the Dean of Students will work with the student and family and the Student Success Center to develop a plan that will help keep the student on track.

She said students can also seek the help of their advisors to find out if they are eligible to withdrawal from the university due to a medical reason or if they must do a conventional withdrawal through the Student Success Center.

Lahart said students who are unable to attend classes due to a medical emergency should see Carol Llewellyn in the Student Success Center to fill out paperwork regarding their withdrawal from classes and to set up a plan to return to school.

“She does an official withdrawal clearance form and one of the areas of the form asks if the student has any intentions of returning to the university. (The student) can check a box that says ‘yes definitely,’ and then on the back of the form there is a questionnaire part that asks, ‘What is the primary reason you are leaving the university?’ Many times [the student will] say ‘I’m leaving because my health right now does not permit me to be able to attend classes.’ Most students come back using the pipeline system,” said Lahart.

Lahart also said students should not be worried about the withdrawal deadline as in the past the university has made exceptions for those students who have emergencies after the deadline date.

“It’s just a letter to the Vice President of Academic Affairs detailing the urgency for the student’s request to withdraw. It is [the Vice President’s of Academic Affairs] office that makes the determination,” said Lahart.

Students who live in the residence halls must also fill out paperwork for a leave.

“If the student lives in the residence hall the student should also contact the RD who will work with him or her on withdrawal from residence,” said Foley.

Students must make sure that all books are returned to the library, residence hall keys are returned to a staff member and parking permits, student IDs and mailbox keys are handed over to a retention specialist.

Students must also clear balances with Student Financial Services, complete a withdrawal form and an exit interview process.

Students will be charged a percentage of tuition depending upon the time of withdrawal. Foley said exceptions have been made for students with extreme circumstances, but typically the student will be held financially responsible for the remainder of the bill.

“If a student withdraws from the university for any reason, he or she follows the university’s refund policy,” said Foley.

The student must pay no later than 120 days after official withdrawal.

Lahart said occasionally tuition bills will be forgiven if the medical reason is deemed an absolute emergency. To find out if a particular emergency is eligible for forgiveness, Lahart urges students to contact Susan Fronzoni, the Director of Student Financial Services.

Students must also be aware of the possible loss of financial aid because part-time enrollment may make the student ineligible. The university does offer appeals, particularly in the case of emergency. Students in good academic standing who return to the university in less than a year will not be required to reapply for admission.

Lahart said the readmission process is fairly simple: Students must contact the admissions office and explain that they had
to withdrawal previously due to medical reasons but are interested in returning to class.

“If there are any concerns, if we felt there was an academic concern, say if we really wanted to make connections with our office to make sure that the student felt supported and that they had a college retention liaison to go through, all of that is put out there for the student, so from there it is a really seamless process for the students to return,” said Lahart.

If upon returning, the student is still suffering the effects of his or her medical problems, Lahart advises students to talk to someone within the office of Students with Disabilities so the transition back to class can be made as easily as possible.

“If it becomes a disability, at that point a student can inter- act with the office for Students with Disabilities and receive an accommodation plan based on our guidelines, which requires appropriate documentation. That is only if a student feels he or she can continue with classes,” said Lahart.

Lahart said the university does not offer a traditional medical leave because it allows for a more personalized approach and prevents any violation of a the student’s right to privacy regard- ing medical information.

“Many times when you have a medical leave policy in place, the rule is that you must have documentation that they are cleared from a doctor to return, which could possibly be a stumbling block for some students. We don’t want to step on the confidentiality of that.”

Lahart also believes that because the withdrawal process is individualized, students are involved in the planning process.

“What I think is Misericordia’s true benefit is this working with students on a personal basis, and I think that it’s something that our withdrawal policy speaks to that because we have the opportunity to do what’s best for them and their academic planning,” said Lahart.

“Our goal is to look at how we can provide the best opportunity for students to be successful,” said Foley.

Foley urges students to consider all options before making any decisions to withdraw. However, if they feel they are out of options and this would be the only feasible action, students should take advantage of the Student Affairs office.

Foley said the Student Affairs office is the number one resource for students.

Students who have questions about leave should contact the Dean of Students or the Vice President of Student Affairs.

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