My Student Appears Ill – How Should I Respond?

During my college-going years there was no “Preparing to Teach in a Pandemic 101” class, and throughout my many years of teaching there was no conference session that covered the topic either. But when COVID-19 upended our routine, everyone did the pivot. Faculty pivoted to online instruction and assessment, staff pivoted to virtual appointments, and students pivoted as life and learning demanded. And now, well over a year later, it’s time for the next pivot. It’s time to return to campus. 

At Columbus State Community College, we’re committed to providing every student access to a quality education. Demonstrating we value our students, staff, faculty, and community, C-State has led with a commitment to safety, communication, and compassion. As we plan to increase our on-campus presence this fall, we want to prepare for situations we may face as we return to our classrooms and offices.  

Right or wrong, in the past many of us have done our best to show up for work despite a tiring headache, a persistent cough, an upset stomach, or maybe even a slight fever. A hardy work ethic is difficult to overcome. And this can be true for our students as well. As we plan our return, here are some thoughts that may help us pivot in unison when we face students who appear unwell: 

  • Conversations about health and visible symptoms are best held away from others to avoid embarrassment or escalated concern among others in the area.  
  • Access to healthcare, fear about taking time away from work/school, and financial strains may be of concern to some individuals during this time, and this may be what is behind resistance to resting or receiving medical attention. This reality means individuals may respond emotionally when engaging in conversations about visible symptoms.  
  • Remote services will continue to be available during standard business hours, even though some in-person services will be reinstituted. Individuals may believe they need to be on campus to access services. However, in most cases, we can reassure a student that remote support is available and that someone will follow up with them once they leave College property in an effort to put their health first.  
  • Centering the conversation on care for the individual’s health and wellness, not necessarily on impact to others, aligns well to our culture of compassion and may avoid escalation or defensiveness.  
  • When speaking with the student, keep the safety of both you and the student in mind by utilizing social distancing and facial coverings.  

And what might this conversation sound like? Knowing no one enjoys engaging in difficult conversations, here are some ideas to help you prepare before you enter your classroom. 

  • “I notice you are coughing/sneezing/[insert other observation], and I am concerned you may not be feeling well. We can work with you away from campus today/until you feel better, and I can connect you with someone to follow up (or I will follow up) once you are situated. What is the best way we can reach you to finish what we started today?”  
  • The College’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) is a great resource for follow-up with individuals for whom you are concerned. Simply asking something like “would you like for someone to follow up with you today?” and then submitting it on the Informational Form at –, or contacting BIT Coordinator Terrence Brooks via email ( or phone (614-287-2815).  
  • In cases of escalation, it is appropriate to respectfully establish a boundary, such as: “I am here to help you, but I am going to ask you not to raise your voice (or other observed behavior). Can we agree to have this conversation in way that allows us both to be heard and come to a resolution to get you the assistance you need?”  

So, knowing some of us will have to work harder while others are more naturally graceful at the pivot, let’s all find some time to talk with colleagues about strategies and discuss ways we have been and can continue to support one another and our students through ongoing challenges associated with health and well-being. 

-Authors: Kelly Hogan and Terrence Brooks 


College Updates and resources

Emotional and Behavioral Health Resources

Emergency and Community Resources

Other Online/ Phone COVID-19 Resources: 

Ohio Department of Health 

1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634)

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