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Revised policy allows medical withdrawal

Although the Spring course withdrawal deadline has passed, students with extenuating medical circumstances may still have the option to pull out of classes.

Administrators and members of Duke Student Government have recently amended the medical withdrawal policy in response to student concerns about changes made to the rule in November. This change—effective immediately—allows undergraduate students with serious medical concerns to potentially withdraw from a course up to 5 p.m. on the last day of classes by petitioning the Trinity deans.

The November change to the policy applied the deadline for academic withdrawal to medical withdrawal as well. Students were prevented from withdrawing from a course in the four weeks leading up to the last day if classes, even for a medical reason. Up until November, students with extreme health issues could drop a class anytime throughout the semester. This semester, the withdrawal deadline was March 28.

“The [November] policy didn’t fully account for students who faced extenuating circumstances after the standard course withdrawal deadline,” said senior Kaveh Danesh, DSG vice president for academic affairs. “The new language of the policy lets those students know there is a procedure in place for them.”

The deal was brokered with Trinity College of Arts & Sciences administrators. But Linda Franzoni, associate dean for undergraduate education of the Pratt School of Engineering, wrote in an April 6 email that rules are applied uniformly to all undergraduates.

The previous policy change happened because students were reporting long-standing mental or physical issues late in the semester instead of earlier on when they could be addressed effectively, The Chronicle reported in November.

Danesh and DSG President Pete Schork, a senior, wrote the new version of the policy in collaboration with Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs of Trinity College and associate vice provost for undergraduate education. The change was announced in an April 2 DSG press release.

Baker said administrators and student representatives have been discussing the issue of medical withdrawals for the past two years. He added that this new measure is not a new policy and does not give students any additional privileges. Instead, it serves to remind students of all of their options in the face of extenuating circumstances late in the semester—either receiving an incomplete, taking a medical leave of absence or withdrawing from a course.

Receiving an incomplete or a medical leave of absence from all courses were still options under the November version.

“In clarifying the language of this policy, we’re not affording students any new rights, but we’re illuminating the options that students have so that they can better exercise the rights that were already in place,” Schork noted, adding that the previous version made some students feel like they had limited options if they fell ill after the withdrawal deadline.

The policy will also encourage better working relations between students and academic deans to find a solution, Danesh noted.

“There is a culture that exists here where students will only reach out to their deans in dire emergencies and will only seek that help when it’s the last possible resort,” he said. “We want the language of the policy to articulate that students should communicate with their deans as early as possible to discuss their options.”

Baker added that students should not avoid taking an incomplete or a leave of absence if one of those strategies is appropriate for their particular situation. He added that an incomplete on a student’s transcript is often the best solution for someone who falls ill after the withdrawal date.

“That’s what incompletes are for—when you’re almost done and you hit a rough patch,” he said. “If you are in a situation where you are compromised so much that you cannot complete a course load, a medical leave is also a good option. Both are viable.”

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the policy change applies uniformly to all undergraduates.

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