January 24, 2018

Student Health Leave of Absence

USC recognizes that health needs may on occasion interfere with a student’s ability to remain in his/her academic program. The university’s goal in these circumstances is to support students so they are able to address their health needs and return to complete their program. As such, the university provides two types of health leaves, a Voluntary Health Leave of Absence and a Mandated Health Leave of Absence. Both types of health leaves, and the process for returning from leave, are described below and apply to all the university’s programs, whether on-campus or online.

Each student requesting a health leave of absence will be assigned a Health Leave Coordinator from the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention who will administer the leave and support the student through the administrative and logistical issues associated with the leave, possible appeal, and return processes.

In all cases, students with disabilities will be assessed to determine if there are reasonable accommodations that would permit the student to continue to participate in the campus community without taking a Voluntary or Mandated Leave of Absence.

Voluntary Health Leave of Absence

A Voluntary Health Leave of Absence (VHLA) is a temporary and voluntary leave from the university due to a student’s health needs. A VHLA is available when a student’s health condition significantly interferes with the student’s ability to function successfully within the university’s programs. Typically, a VHLA lasts between one full semester and one academic year, but may be extended by providing documentation outlining the need to the Health Leave Coordinator.

Requesting a VHLA

A student may initiate a request for a VHLA by speaking with a Health Leave Coordinator. The student must complete the Voluntary Health Leave of Absence Request, which will be reviewed by the Coordinator. The Coordinator will then forward the request with a recommendation to the student’s academic dean. The Coordinator and other university personnel will exercise discretion in only sharing the minimum details about the student’s medical condition as necessary to facilitate the student’s health leave or to protect the university community’s health, safety or educational interests. In some situations, the student may be asked to sign a release that will permit the Health Leave Coordinator to communicate with the student’s health care providers during the student’s leave or to facilitate internal discussions regarding implementation of the student’s health leave.

PhD students must notify their advisor of their leave request. While the process and principles related to health and wellness remain essentially the same for all students, sources of academic and financial support for doctoral students vary from program to program, often controlled by factors external to the university. The Health Leave Coordinator will work with these students, their advisor, and the Graduate School to address these issues on an individual basis.

If the student is unable to meet with the Health Leave Coordinator or complete the form due to an emergency situation such as hospitalization or inability to function independently, a parent or guardian may do so on behalf of the student. The deadline to apply for a VHLA is the last day of the semester, as specified in the university catalogue. A VHLA request made after the student has completed the semester will be considered for the upcoming semester.

A student involved in a potential disciplinary process or in poor academic standing may still request a VHLA, although an individualized determination will be made by the university in consultation with the student about whether the discipline or academic process should proceed or wait for the student’s return.

A VHLA cannot be granted retroactively, either for a single course or the semester.

Creating a VHLA plan

Once the academic dean or his/her designee approves the VHLA, the student and Health Leave Coordinator will create an individualized health leave plan to be completed by the student while on leave. The health leave plan may reference medical treatment recommended by the student’s health care provider and other requirements to return to the university, such as resolving incomplete grades. Completion of this plan is a factor the university considers when students seek to return to the university after their leave.

While on a VHLA, students are generally not allowed to participate in any university-sanctioned activities, attend classes or labs, reside in or visit on-campus student housing, and may not be on campus except to attend a meeting or hearing related to their case. Exceptions to this general rule will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. The university’s foremost goal for students on VHLA is to allow the student to address the medical condition that caused the leave.

Additional components of leave process

Students electing to take a VHLA may be eligible for future tuition credits and extension of student health insurance. To obtain these benefits, students may need to work with several campus units, including Housing, Financial Aid, the Registrar, the Graduate School, etc. and are encouraged to contact the Campus Support and Advocacy Team for help.

Tuition and USC housing costs that were paid by the student for courses and housing not fulfilled during the term in which the VHLA occurs may be refunded per the university’s withdrawal/tuition refund policy (see the Schedule of Classes for details) and tuition refund insurance program. Students who have purchased the tuition refund insurance for the current semester and are withdrawing from all courses may be entitled to a refund due to a medical or mental health emergency. If the VHLA begins after the add/drop deadline, such refunds may be available through the tuition refund program, and if the student does not have tuition refund insurance, a tuition credit may be applied to the student’s account for use in subsequent semesters.

For a VHLA, students will receive a “W” on their academic transcripts if the leave is taken after the add/drop period. If the withdrawal occurs during the add/drop period, the student will be dropped from classes without any notation on the transcript. Thus, a VHLA will not affect the student’s grade point average.

If the student does not plan to return to the university, the student should notify the Health Leave Coordinator and the academic advisor at his/her earliest convenience.

Mandated Health Leave of Absence

Students are encouraged to prioritize their health and safety and take steps toward recovery, even if academic progress must be delayed. A Mandated Health Leave of Absence (MHLA) is designed to assist students under the following conditions:

  • When the student presents a substantial risk of harm to self or others or has engaged in threatening or violent activities;
  • When the student significantly disrupts activities of the university or university community and that disruption is deemed to be related to a health condition; or
  • When the student is unable or unwilling to carry out substantial self-care obligations or to participate meaningfully in educational activities.

The Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention will determine whether a student meeting the above criteria needs to be placed on an MHLA. The Vice Provost will assess the student’s situation on an individual basis to make that determination, as well as determining what, if any, role the university will take to facilitate the leave and potential return of the student.

In responding to these situations, the university reserves the right to determine appropriate responses including, but not limited to, the following options:

  1. Allow the student to remain in school, but require a specific mental or physical health evaluation, within a certain period of time (typically 10 days), by the Student Health Center, Student Counseling Services or a provider designated by the university, at the university’s expense. The university may also request the student authorize release of outside health records as part of the evaluation process. Evaluation results will be provided to the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, who will determine next steps.
  1. Invoke an Interim Health Restriction or MHLA (see below).
  1. Notify the student’s parent(s) and appropriate university officials about a mental or physical health or safety emergency. University notifications are shared on a need-to-know basis.

Interim Health Restriction

The Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention may invoke an Interim Health Restriction upon a student’s medical or psychological hospitalization, emergency, or during a medical evaluation period. This interim period allows time for a student to receive needed medical and/or psychological care, and for all parties to consider an evaluation of readiness to remain at the university. Students who are placed on an Interim Health Restriction are temporarily not allowed to participate in any university-sanctioned activities, attend classes or labs, reside in or visit on-campus student housing, and may not be on campus except to attend a meeting or hearing related to their case.

Students who are placed on an Interim Health Restriction will be notified in writing, and may address the basis for the decision by contacting the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention.

MHLA

In certain circumstances, the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention may determine that a student must take an MHLA before he/she can function productively within the university community.

Students on an MHLA are not permitted to participate in any university-sanctioned activities, attend classes or labs, reside in or visit on-campus student housing, and may not be on campus except to attend a meeting or hearing related to their case, which is approved in advance by the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention. Students on an MHLA are welcome to submit additional information to the Vice Provost including statements from health care providers, advocates for the student, the student him/herself, or any other information the student wishes to provide. The Vice Provost will consider all submitted information.

A Health Leave Coordinator will work with the student and his/her health care providers to develop a leave of absence plan. This plan will address the needs of the student, as well as considerations of the campus community, and will be developed in consultation with appropriate professionals. The plan may reference medical treatment recommended by the student’s health care providers and other requirements to return to the university, such as resolving incomplete grades. Completion of this plan is a factor the university considers when students seek to return to the university after their leave.

Appeal

If a student disagrees with the imposition of an MHLA, he/she may appeal within three business days of the decision. The appeal must be made in writing to the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, and may relate to the leave decision itself and/or the conditions imposed to remain or to return. The decision will be reviewed by the Health Leave of Absence Appeal Committee (HLAAC), which is comprised of the core members listed below, or their designees, and may include additional relevant individuals, depending on the individual appeal:

  • Executive Director of Student Health
  • Executive Director, ADA/504 Coordinator
  • Associate Vice Provost for Campus Crisis Support and Intervention
  • Associate Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Education
  • Director of Student Counseling Services
  • Chief Threat Assessment Officer
  • Department of Public Safety representative

A minimum of three committee members will review each appeal and make a recommendation within five working days to the Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, who will afford significant weight to the committee’s recommendation. The Vice Provost will respond to the student’s appeal within three days of receipt of the committee’s recommendations. This response constitutes the final decision of the university.

The appeal process is designed to remain individualized and interactive, and at any point before the final determination, the student may submit additional information relative to the student’s care and/or progress. Such information may include a student’s statement, additional documentation from a health care provider, a statement by an advocate for the student, or any other information a student wishes to provide to the HLAAC. All information will be considered.

Additional components of leave process

Tuition and USC housing costs that were paid by the student for courses and housing not fulfilled during the term in which the MHLA occurs may be refunded per the university’s withdrawal/tuition refund policy as published in the Schedule of Classes. No additional refunds are available for an MHLA.

Every effort will be made to consider a student’s financial situation and insurance coverage in making recommendations for treatment or evaluation.

For an MHLA, the student will receive a “W” on his/her academic transcript; or, if the withdrawal occurs during the add/drop period, the student will be dropped from classes without any notation on the transcript of having left for health reasons. Thus, an MHLA will not affect the student’s grade point average.

Returning from a Health Leave of Absence

The university wants to ensure that students can successfully return from a Health Leave of Absence (either VHLA or MHLA). Accordingly, students who wish to return must demonstrate they are able to safely resume their program and they will not be disruptive to the community. Students must be well enough to carry out substantial self-care obligations and participate meaningfully in their educational activities. Completion of the student’s leave plan will be considered in evaluating readiness to return.

To return from leave, the student must submit a Readiness to Return form completed by his/her treating provider to the Health Leave Coordinator. The student may be asked to undergo an evaluation by a healthcare provider designated by the university at the university’s expense. In addition, the student must write a personal statement documenting why he/she wishes to return and for what semester. The personal statement should describe what the student did while on leave; what the student perceives were the reasons for the leave; and what changes, if any, the student plans to implement that will allow the student to safely and effectively meet the requirements of his/her program.

In order to allow ample time for the review process, the deadlines to submit the Readiness to Return form and personal statement to the Health Leave Coordinator are as follows:

  • October 31 for possible return for spring semester
  • March 31 for possible return for summer semester
  • June 30 for possible return for fall semester

The student may be asked to sign an Authorization for Disclosure of Information form as part of the university’s process of obtaining adequate information to facilitate the student’s return. Depending on the student’s individual circumstances, the student and the Health Leave Coordinator may work together to develop a supportive return plan. The Health Leave Coordinator will exercise discretion in disclosing only the minimum information necessary and typically will not need to disclose details about the student’s condition.

Based on an individualized assessment of the student’s situation, the Health Leave Coordinator will determine whether the student is ready to return. PhD students who are approved to return must work with their advisor, program, and the Graduate School to address issues such as academic and financial support specific to the student’s program.

If the student’s request is denied, the student may appeal the decision to the Vice Provost of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention. The appeal must be submitted in writing within 10 business days of the decision. The appeal will be reviewed by the HLAAC, which will make a recommendation to the Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, with the Vice Provost affording significant weight to the Committee’s recommendation. The Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention will respond to the student’s appeal within three business days of the HLAAC’s recommendation. This decision constitutes the final decision of the university.

The appeal process is designed to remain individualized and interactive, and at any point before the final determination, the student may submit additional information relative to the student’s care and/or progress. Such information may include a student’s statement, additional documentation from a health care provider, a statement by an advocate for the student, or any other information a student wishes to provide to the HLAAC. All information will be considered.

Students returning from leave may need to work with several campus units, including Housing, Financial Aid, Disability Services and Programs, the Registrar, etc. To help coordinate among these units in facilitating the return, returning students are encouraged to contact the Campus Support and Advocacy Team.

Confidentiality

USC recognizes the sensitive and confidential nature of a health leave of absence. USC’s use and disclosure of information related to a student’s health leave of absence will be guided by laws governing the privacy of student information, such as FERPA, and the limited exceptions for disclosure provided by law.

Responsible Office

Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention
https://www.provost.usc.edu/campus-wellness-and-crisis-intervention/
uscprovost@usc.edu
(213) 740-2101

Issued by

Michael Quick, Provost and Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs
University of Southern California