Petitions process for graduate students

A petition is a request by a student seeking exception to or relief from normal faculty or University rules and regulations. The information below will answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the process:

Where can I find the official rules about petitions?

Petitions at the University of Waterloo are governed by Policy 70 (Secretariat website).

When should I file a petition regarding a University decision?

You should file a petition if you had or have a unique or extenuating circumstance that you believe warrants an exception from an otherwise appropriately applied University rule. 

Consider this example. A student has not met the course average requirement for their program. The program correctly decides that this student is required to withdraw. Now imagine that the student has been dealing with substantial health challenges – personally or with a family member. These circumstances have prevented the student from concentrating on their academics and being successful. In this case, the student can ask the University to allow them another chance to meet their academic requirements because the student was experiencing these “extenuating circumstances.”

How do petitions differ from grievances?

With a petition, you believe the rules were fairly applied, but your circumstances are sufficiently unique that you deserve an exception. 

With a grievance, you believe the rules were unfairly applied and appropriate rules should be restored.  See Policy 70 for more on grievances.

How do I file a petition?

Petitions can be filed using a confidential online form (Graduate Studies forms website).

How do I fill out the petition form?

The petition form and process have been developed to protect your and others’ privacy, particularly if your extenuating circumstances include health or medical challenges. Before you begin, please ensure to read the form in its entirety.

When you access the petition form, you will need to choose which circumstance applies to your situation. The circumstances will support your claim for an exception to the regulations. There are five choices in the form:

  • No extenuating circumstances
  • Significant event (e.g. death or illness of a relative)
  • Short term medical concern
  • Known or suspected disability
  • COVID-19

If you have no extenuating circumstances, but still wish to have an exception made, you need to provide evidence of why your situation is sufficiently unique that University regulations should be modified for your specific situation. 

If you do have extenuating circumstances that are motivating your petition, choose one of the four options. Once you have determined which of these choices is appropriate, and have started to obtain the necessary documentation, you will need to write a narrative/description about how the extenuating circumstance impacted you. Note that “disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions that can be permanent, temporary, sporadic, and suspected, including, but not limited to physical disabilities, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, mental health disabilities, medical conditions, and the physical/psychological effects of a trauma (e.g., sexual violence). It is viewed as a broad and expansive concept that recognizes the characteristics of the individual as well as society’s response to a person, and the historical disadvantage experienced by the group(s) the person belongs to, that is, viewing “disability” through an intersectional lens.

If you are petitioning due to a short term medical concern or a known or suspected disability, or if there are other Ontario Human Rights Code grounds that intersect with a disability, your petition and included documentation will be shared with AccessAbility Services (AAS). As well, if you are not seeking an exception based on a known or suspected disability, but have medical documentation, these will also be shared with AAS.

In your narrative/description, include personal details at your discretion. This form will be read by a committee and the associate dean (AD) for graduate studies in your faculty.  You are not required to include details of a medical diagnosis (if any) in your narrative/description. If you need to revise your form at a later date, let the assistant-vice president (AVP) in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) know (email: and they can work with you to revise the form and ensure your privacy is protected. Below is a description of the types of documentation typically included with a petition.

What kind of documentation will I need?

Below is a list of the types of documentation that may be needed for each of the categories with the exception of “No extenuating circumstances” and “COVID-19” which do not require supporting documentation.  Documents can be uploaded into the petition form for your convenience. Documentation that includes medical information will not be shared with the AD and will be shared only with AAS.

  • Significant event - examples include an obituary or a doctor’s note describing how the situation has affected you.
  • Short term medical concern - examples include Verification of Illness Forms, doctor’s or counsellor’s notes.
  • Known or suspected disability - examples include AccessAbility Services’ Disability Verification Forms, doctor’s or counsellor’s notes.

If medical documentation is already on file with AAS, there is no need to submit again. You can direct AAS to provide their summary directly to the AVP, GSPA (email:, or you can choose to upload their summary here.

Do not upload medical documents or other documentation that pertains to a third party (e.g. information that does not pertain to you specifically). Instead, provide documentation outlining how their illness or extenuating circumstances affected you. If you require further details on what information to include, contact AVP, GSPA: for further direction.

What happens when I complete and submit the petition form?

  • If extenuating circumstance is short term medical concern or a known or suspected disability, or intersection between other Ontario Human Rights Code grounds and a disability:  Once you have completed and submitted the petition form, the AVP, GSPA will share your form (and, if applicable, your medical documents) with AAS. Your confidential medical documentation is shared only with AAS to safeguard your sensitive and private information (e.g., diagnosis). AAS will consult with you if needed. Once AAS has completed their assessment of your medical documentation, they will share a document “Verification of Clinical Records Form” with the AVP, GSPA to include in your petition package to the AD in your faculty*.  The purpose of this document is to confirm the level of incapacitation/impact as a result of your disability/condition and dates of incapacitation/impact. This form will not include any personal health information including diagnosis, symptoms, medication, etc. This summary will help the AD/committee understand if there is a duty to accommodate and to substantiate claims made in the narrative. Please note that your original medical documentation provided through the petition form or to AAS will not be shared with the AD or committee.
  • If no extenuating circumstance, significant event or COVID-19 are selected in your petition. The AVP, GSPA will share your petition form and attached documentation (not medical documentation) with the AD in your faculty*.

How long does it take to receive a decision on my petition?

The decision on your petition is made in the faculty where you are registered, normally by either the AD or a committee that includes the AD.  Decisions are typically made in two to three weeks and are communicated to you directly by the AD*. 

It is important to note that decisions on petitions cannot be appealed, however, in very narrow circumstances, where significant new information and corresponding evidence that was not available through due diligence in the first instance becomes available, and if that new information and corresponding evidence could alter the decision in the first instance, you may submit this new information for reconsideration.  Please note that the outcomes available may differ based on the timing of your submissions and may involve new supervision and funding arrangements depending on the circumstances.   Requests for retroactive accommodations on the basis of disability will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Student Academic Accommodation Guidelines (Secretariat website).

How is my privacy protected?

Please know that the only individuals with access to the medical/health documents that you provided are the AVP, GSPA and individuals from AAS. The role of the AVP, GSPA is to share and manage the documents and to determine if they need to be shared with AAS but not to verify their contents. That is, in order to protect your privacy, your medical documents for a short term medical concern or a known or suspected disability will be shared by the AVP, GSPA to AAS – and subsequently replaced within the petition by a “Verification of Clinical Records Form” from AAS. That office is available to support you should you have questions about the medical documentation you are required to upload to support your petition.

Who do I contact if I have questions or concerns about the petition form or this process?

At any time during this process, you can reach out to the AVP, GSPA through The Graduate Student Association-University of Waterloo (GSA-UW) is also here to support you with questions about Policy 70 and petitions.

*If your petition is regarding a decision made by Co-operative Education staff, your petition will be reviewed by a committee within Co-op.

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