Flu-Proofing Your Course: Planning Your Course to Anticipate Student Absences

Note: This article was written by our colleagues in the Office of Faculty Development, and I am posting this here on their behalf. Thanks, OFD colleagues, for this great information! If you need help in updating your course syllabus to anticipate course interruptions such as student illness, please contact OFD.

Related Documents

• NC State: “Flu Proofing Your Course
Memo from Warwick A. Arden, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor (9/24/2009)
NC State Syllabus Policy for Undergraduate Courses REG 02.20.7
NC State Attendance Policies and Regulations REG 02.20.3
NC State Regulation REG 11.00.1: Family Educational Rights and Privacy (FERPA or Buckley Amendment)

Because there is a possibility that either you or many of your students may be absent from your course during the semester due to flu-related illness, it is important to develop contingency plans so that the course can continue and the students can complete essential components of the course. These contingencies can be reflected in your syllabus in areas of assignments, alternative in-class participation requirements, attendance and make up requirements, course calendar, and communication arrangements.


In reflecting about what students need to do in your class to meet your learning objectives, determine multiple ways students can accomplish these objectives. These options will assist students who have to miss class for illness. Using readings and equipment which don’t require students to use library or other campus resources will be essential if they are not well enough to come to campus.

Alternative in-class participation requirements

Generally, the purpose of in-class participation is to encourage active learning. Active learning can also be self-directed for students who must miss class. For example, you can require students to complete a problem-solving assignment which requires levels of thinking similar to those expected in class participation.


Refer to the Provost’s statement above. Consider altering your attendance policies to allow for additional absences due to illness. You can add a disclaimer to your syllabus which will allow you to change your attendance policies if there are high levels of flu illness on campus. Students should understand that they do not need to come to class when ill, since you don’t want flu to spread within your class. Include your requirements for completing course work or field work or lab work when attendance is not possible.

Making up missed work

Have a make-up policy for missed work. Allow a reasonable amount of time to make up work, recognizing that students may have make-up work in many other classes as well. If students encounter difficulties with make-up work because your class is moving quickly and students who have missed classes don’t have the prerequisite learning to move ahead, you may need to refer them to campus services such as the Undergraduate Tutorial Center or plan additional study sessions outside of class. You can also pair students to coach one another using the phone and email.


Determine mechanisms for communication with your students for private messages. Be specific about where you will post course announcements and how students may communicate with one another, Consider using a learning management system such as Moodle to communicate generic information to all students. Pair students early in the semester so that students have ways to gather class notes from one another in case of absence.

Course calendar

Consider that your course calendar is subject to change during the semester if there are significant absences. It may be wise to plan for including topics which are “optional” to your course at the end of the semester so you have this flexibility built in from the beginning to allow for this flexibility.

Preparing your Graduate Teaching Assistants

If you work with teaching assistants, prepare them thoroughly for roles they may need to assume if you are absent due to illness. Cover possible assignment and calendar modifications so that they can adapt as necessary. Prepare GTA communication plans in advance.


Be prepared for worried parent calls and review FERPA policies to determine what information you can release to parents. Assure parents that systems are in place to help students keep up with assignments if they have to miss class.