Supporting Academic Progress When Students Isolate or Quarantine

Notification Information & Response Guidance

This information and guidance is intended to help instructors support and directly respond to students who need to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 during the semester.

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Instructor notification of student isolation or quarantine

It is the students’ responsibility to communicate with instructors as soon as possible if they are unable to attend class or continue with course activities as planned, and to make alternate plans with the instructor on how to proceed with the course. While students are not required to disclose to their instructors if they test positive for COVID-19, students are encouraged to do so.

Only instructors of in-person or hybrid courses will receive notification from University Health Services (UHS) of a positive case within their classroom. Instructors of such courses will receive a notification each time a student enrolled in their course(s) tests positive. To protect the health privacy of students, the notification will not identify the individual student; it will alert the instructor that “an individual in your course has tested positive for COVID-19.”  Specific directions will be included reminding instructors not to share the information with others in class to preserve Protected Health Information (PHI) and the contact tracing system. Unless the instructor is notified directly by contact tracers, there is no reason to believe that the instructor or others in the class have had close contact to necessitate isolation or quarantine.

Instructors do not need to take any additional action after receiving the notification. Contact tracing, notification, quarantine and all other related public health actions are the responsibility of public health officials and UHS. Here are two diagrams of positive test reporting protocol: one for students and one for campus employees.

Students who test positive or are notified by contact tracers that they are a close contact of an individual who has tested positive, will receive information about immediate next steps, isolation or quarantine, and future actions (such as when the student can safely return to work or class). This guidance can be found on the UHS COVID-19 testing information webpage.

Guidance for when a student chooses to disclose a positive COVID-19 test result

While students are not required to disclose to their instructors if they test positive for COVID-19, students are encouraged to do so. If a student chooses to disclose that they have tested positive for COVID-19 or that they have health issues that impact their ability to participate in class (whether remote, hybrid or in-person) and complete coursework, see below for guidance on how to respond. Also included below is a sample response that instructors can use or adapt depending on the circumstances. Download this guidance and sample language as a Word document.

  • Respond with empathy and assure students that support is available from campus.
  • Gently remind students that they should immediately self-isolate, if they haven’t already, to prevent spreading the virus.
  • Mention they should receive information about immediate next steps, isolation or quarantine, and future actions (such as when the student can safely return to work or class) from UHS or public health officials (depending on where they got tested, e.g., on campus, off campus in Dane County or off campus outside of Dane County). This guidance can be found on the UHS COVID-19 testing information webpage.
  • Discuss if they are able to continue their coursework, as planned, and offer to discuss with them alternative ways they can engage in the course to meet course learning outcomes.
  • Share additional resources available to them such as academic advising, University Health Services (UHS) and the Dean of Students Office.
  • Assure them that you will keep this test-result information confidential. It is up to the student to determine who they want to share this health information with.
  • Encourage the student to continue to communicate with you.

Sample Response Email

Dear [insert student name],

Thank you for sharing your situation with me. Your health and well-being are important. There are many people and resources on campus to support you during this time. I will do what I can to help.

[ONLY if a student disclosed a positive COVID test] I assure you that I will keep your positive COVID-19 test result confidential. If you have not done so already, please immediately self-isolate. You should receive information about immediate next steps, isolation or quarantine, and future actions (such as when the student can safely return to work or class) from UHS or public health officials (depending on where you got tested, e.g., on campus, off campus in Dane County or off campus outside of Dane County). This guidance can be found on the UHS COVID-19 testing information webpage

I encourage you to keep me updated on your health and your ability to continue to participate in this course. If you have concerns about meeting upcoming course requirements or assignment deadlines because of your health, please let me know and we can discuss possible alternative ways for you to engage in the course to meet course learning outcomes. 

There are also additional campus resources available to support you:

  • Academic Advisors – The advisors can assist you with concerns about course loads, dropping a course, withdrawing from the semester and overall academic progress. All current UW undergraduate students have at least one assigned advisor and can find their assigned advisor(s) in the Academic Navigator via their MyUW portal.
  • University Health Services | 608-265-5600 – UHS has no-cost medical and mental health care and support, including mental health providers with a focus on students of color. UHS providers understand that this is a difficult time for students and are available to help in any way they can. There is also 24/7 after-hours support for students, both for medical advice and for mental health crises. 608-265-5600.
  • The Dean of Students Office | 608-263-5700 – The Dean of Students Office is also available to connect students who are navigating personal, academic, or health issues, to supportive campus and community resources.

I would like to stay in touch with you, and I would be glad to schedule a virtual meeting or phone call to discuss next steps.  

Sincerely,

[insert your name]

Student responsibilities - concerning coursework - when isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19

Students are responsible for:

  • Carefully reviewing all of the information related to absences, quarantine and isolation, and COVID-19 provided in the course syllabus, and consult with the instructor if there are questions or concerns
  • Contacting their instructor(s) as soon as possible if they become ill or need to isolate or quarantine, and make alternate plans for how to continue to make progress in the course, if needed. Students are strongly encouraged to communicate with their instructor concerning their illness and the anticipated extent of their absence from the course (either in-person or remote). If the student is well enough to continue with the course, the instructor will work with the student to provide reasonable alternatives for how to complete coursework.
  • Communicating with their instructor(s) regularly when absence is ongoing (to the extent possible, given the severity of their symptoms)
  • Consulting with their academic advisor if they have concerns about course loads, dropping a course, withdrawing from the semester and overall academic progress. All current UW undergraduate students have at least one assigned advisor and can find their assigned advisor(s) in the Academic Navigator via their MyUW portal.

Students can also find additional assistance through these resources:

Planning Guidance

As mentioned above, at any given time, an instructor may have multiple students missing class for a day or up to weeks or months, depending on the severity of the situation, during the semester. This guidance is intended to help instructors proactively develop flexible course plans that will support the academic progress of students who need to isolate or quarantine during the semester. Such course plans should include flexible learning activities to support in-person and remote learning for students who need to isolate or quarantine, and for students who have extended absences and cannot participate in instruction regardless of modality.

While these guidelines aim to focus on situations where students need to isolate or quarantine, instructors are encouraged to consider similar flexibility for students experiencing other barriers to learning (see also: the “Keeping Students First” section).

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General principles

  • Prioritize the health and safety of all instructors and students. This is particularly important for in-person instructional environments.
  • Recognize instructors are responsible for providing criteria, as indicated in their syllabi, about how to accommodate students who miss scheduled class activities
  • Do not penalize students who cannot attend class meetings.
  • Provide students with appropriate opportunities to meet the learning outcomes; this may mean students who need to isolate or quarantine do not have the same experience as other students but can still meet the learning outcomes for the course.
  • Be attentive to privacy issues and policy regarding individual’s health status.
  • Be attentive to campus health and safety protocols as available on the Smart Restart website to reinforce consistency of messaging

Why is this planning important?

As described above, there are various scenarios of quarantine or isolation that will require students to be absent from your courses:

  • Staying at home if they experience COVID-19 symptoms
  • Quarantining for 14 days if they have had contact with someone who has tested positive
  • Isolating for at least 10 days if they test positive COVID-19

The various scenarios mean that different groups of students may be absent at different times throughout the semester. In any given class, on any given day, there may be a shifting set of students in attendance.

Some students who are absent due to COVID-19 may be able to continue academic work if they are asymptomatic or only suffer mild symptoms. It is important to provide students the opportunity to meet the learning outcomes and continue progress in the class, if they are physically able to do so, even if they cannot be in, in-person attendance.

Other students who are absent due to COVID-19 may not be able to continue academic work if they experience severe symptoms. Instructors should be prepared to define clear course expectations for students who miss a substantial amount of class and discuss with those students the possibility for continuing academic progress.

General recommendations for how to plan ahead

Instructors need to plan for absences. They are responsible for working with individual students to find appropriate accommodations for a variety of circumstances, including when students may need alternative methods for completing coursework to achieve course learning outcomes (e.g., instructors of of in-person courses will also need to plan for remote learning options. See the next section for alternative learning options and activities).

It is essential for students to have the confidence that their progress and grade will not be put at risk if they need to miss class because they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and need to isolate, or if they need to quarantine.

One of the most important things instructors can do is to think and plan early, before the beginning of the semester, about how fluctuating attendance may impact a course and how that might be addressed to ensure student academic progress. As mentioned above, the experience of those absent from class may not be the exact same experience as those attending class, but there can be a close approximation to ensure academic progress.

Recommendations for Planning Ahead

  1. Develop a flexible course plan that allows students to continue their studies given the various scenarios of quarantine or isolation mentioned above. Consider alternative learning options and activities, especially for in-person courses
  2. Include a clear statement in the course syllabus about what modifications will be available for students who are absent from scheduled class activities.
  3. Plan to communicate early and often to students how such circumstances will be addressed and apply the plan consistently.

The final decision about how to work with students who miss scheduled class activities resides with the instructor. If modifications that allow the student to complete the class within the term are not feasible, a grade of “incomplete” or dropping the class may be appropriate. Instructors should clearly and repeatedly communicate to students the expectation that if they miss a substantial amount of class they need to contact the instructor to discuss possible options.

Instructor and TA Absences

Contingency planning for instructor and TA absences also needs to be considered. Instructors should work with their department chair and school/college to develop a plan for instructors who need to isolate or quarantine.

Developing a flexible course plan

As mentioned in the section above, developing a flexible course plan is key to allowing students to continue their studies given the various scenarios of quarantine or isolation related to COVID-19. Each course will have particular needs that will require a response tailored to that class.

Here are some suggestions to help instructors develop a flexible course plan, including the use of remote activities and digital tools:

  • Review the course learning outcomes to focus on the areas of greatest importance when determining what activities could be offered remotely to provide greater flexibility for students to complete.
  • Attendance may not be an appropriate assessment measure under our current circumstances: consider or reconsider what counts as attendance/participation.
  • Consider how BlackBoard Collaborate (BBC), Zoom or other Canvas tools may be incorporated to meet course goals through remote, synchronous and asynchronous activities. See more detailed guidance and examples for remote course activities and digital tools. The College of Letters and Science also provides a Remote Teaching Toolkit.
  • Use Canvas for content delivery – such as providing instructor notes, class outlines, PowerPoint presentations, etc. – and reserve in-person activities for participation and discussion.
  • Consider permitting students to attend a remote section of the class, if available.
  • Consult your department and school/college about how/when you should consider shifting an entire section to remote instruction in the event that significant numbers of students are consistently absent from the entire class.

Syllabus language and communicating with students

As you build out your flexible course plan, include a clear statement in the course syllabus about what modifications will be available for students who are absent from scheduled class activities.

Isolation vs. Quarantine - Guidelines and Definitions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established recommendations for isolation and quarantine to slow the community spread of COVID-19. These protective measures establish timelines for individuals that have been in contact with a sick individual or have become sick themselves, to prevent contact with others until they know they are not contagious.

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Quarantine

Quarantine, as defined by the CDC, is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 separated from others. Quarantine helps prevent the spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay in their residence, separate from others, and monitor their health.

Who needs to quarantine and what counts as close contact?

Anyone who has experienced close contact with someone who has COVID-19  needs to quarantine. “Close contact” is defined as being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes (even if you are wearing a face covering). This may include:

  • Providing care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • Having direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them)
  • Sharing eating or drinking utensils
  • The individual sneezing, coughing, or somehow getting respiratory droplets on you

*Note: If physical distancing and face covering protocols are followed within classrooms, individuals in those spaces are not considered “close contacts” solely by way of being in the room.

What if I don’t know if I’ve been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19?

Public health staff  will work as “contract tracers” and help individuals who have tested positive with COVID-19 to recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time frame while they may have been infectious. The contract tracers will then notified all of the exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible. The university has employed is own contact tracers through University Health Service, trained in conjunction with Public Health Madison & Dane County.

See more guidance on what to do if you have been exposed, including information about returning to work or classes after quarantine.

Length of Quarantine

Individuals need to remain in quarantine for 14 days. If they develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 while they are in quarantine, they will need to go into isolation for at least 10 days. See more information about testing positive for COVID-19.

Isolation

Isolation, as defined by the CDC, is used to separate people who have been infected with COVID-19 from people who are not infected. Anyone who tests positive should isolate themselves immediately.

Who needs to isolate?

  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19, including those who are asymptomatic
  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19 and are able to recover at home

See more guidance on what to do if you test positive and need to isolate, including specific information and resources for campus employees, students living in campus housing and students living off campus.

Length of Isolation

  • If an individual experience symptoms of COVID-19, they need to isolate for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms, have been fever-free for at least 24 hours and experience improvement in their symptoms.
  • If an individual never develops symptoms, they need to isolate for 10 days after testing positive.

Find information about returning to work or classes after testing positive.