U. of Washington Student Government: Requiring a Doctor’s Note Is Racist

It’s a pretty common practice — school kids that are sick and who miss school need to bring in a doctor’s note to have the absences excused. While each state is different, most have definite rules regarding students and sick days. Parents are warned to keep children home for the 24 hours following a fever or an incidence of vomiting, and the school requires a note for medical related absences. Mild colds that keep a child or teen out of school don’t need a note, but to excuse students for longer periods a doctor’s note is usually needed.

This policy is also usually adopted by colleges and even some work places to ensure that contagious illnesses stay at home (and are not spread through the office or in the case of those working in food preparation or service, the public). Getting a doctor’s note can be inconvenient, but up until now, no one has considered it to be racist. That changed this week when the student government of the University of Washington spoke out against the requirement for doctor’s notes after extended absences or for those that could pose a hazard to public health because of their jobs.

According to Campus Reform, the students at the University of Washington want to remove the requirement of a doctor’s note because they feel it is racist. It is important to note that the University of Washington already has a liberal policy on notes — they are only needed when there are extensive absences (and a prolonged illness) or public safety is at risk (food service workers on campus). According to students, requiring a doctor’s note (and therefore a doctor’s visit) is racist against DACA students and “minority students.” The resolution passed 49-0.

Brands like Chipotle found out the hard way that allowing employees to work while ill can lead to a public health disaster. Several serious illness outbreaks were linked to workers who were ill, but returned to work preparing, handling, and serving food anyway — resulting in multiple illnesses, horrible publicity and the actual closure of several locations. Today, Chipotle and other brands offer paid sick days to encourage sick workers to stay home — and many require anyone who has missed work because of a contagious illness to have a doctor’s note to return to serving food. Schools like the University of Washington, which also feature on-site food service venues, could end up putting students and faculty at risk if the need for a doctor’s note was banned.

Doctor’s notes can be inconvenient, but as we head into the most germ-ridden, contagious time of year, they are necessary to protect other students and faculty. The University of Washington is not requiring notes from just minority students or DACA students (which would be a racist practice), but requiring them from all students. The student government is making an unreasonable jump that this process is motivated by race. Campus Republican groups have already been banned from participating, so this latest initiative passed unanimously. Look for reports of unexplained, increased illness from the University of Washington next spring, if this initiative is approved by the school.

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