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Travel is one of the greatest gifts that we can
give our children. But what if there is someone, or better put, something that
could put an unexpected roadblock in your plans. Something that could even punish you for
traveling with your kids?
It seems inconceivable, but parents across the U.S.
and in Europe are facing just that.
Their children's schools think they know
better than the parents and have even taken drastic measures to keep parents from taking them kids out of class for travel—no matter how educational
To understand what is going on, you need to look at what
constitutes an absence—excused and unexcused—and how schools and parents can navigate the tricky waters of truancy.
2. Quarantine under the direction of a
3. Personal medical, dental, optometric or chiropractic
4. Funeral services for a member of the immediate family (limited
to one day in the state, and three days out of state).
5. Student serving on
6. Exclusion for illness or medical appointment of a child of whom
the pupil is the custodial parent.
7. Personal court appearance (requires
8. Prior Principal approval for employment conference.
Employment in the Entertainment Industry for a maximum of up to five absences
per school year.
10. Observance of a religious holiday or ceremony (recommend
three (3) days advance notice to school).
11. Religious retreat (limited to
four hours per semester).
12. Prior Principal approval for reasons, which may
not be included elsewhere, but are pursuant to uniform standards established by
the governing board.
13. For the purpose of serving as a member of a precinct
board for an election pursuant to Section 12302 of the Elections Code.
Fontana goes on to explain that unexcused absences include
1. Going to work with parent or other family member.
Going to the beach, lake, river, mountains or desert.
3. Going to a concert.
Getting ready for a date.
5. Babysitting, taking care of other family members.
6. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
7. Joyriding or partying.
9. Repairing car or household items.
10. Waiting for service
or repair people to arrive.
13. Attending a sporting
14. Any other reason not included in "Acceptable Reason for Excused
15. Bus not available/missing bus.
16. Participating in a
student demonstration off campus.
The United Kingdom has been a loud advocate against parents
taking children out of schools, going as far as fining parents a significant
amount of money for taking their children out to go on holiday. Even if parents
want to leave a day before a school break starts, they could be fined on
average £172. The
Guardian reported on these punishments this summer.
In contrast, Canadian blogger and National Geographic Travelers of the
Greenwood Davis and her husband took their kids out
of school for an entire year and were applauded by their sons' schools. Stewart and
Natasha Sutherland in the U.K., on the other hand, were ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and fines
in 2013 for pulling their children out of school for a week, according the the
Schools in the U.S. are
strapped for cash. Every seat that is filled brings in money for the school. Schools are penalized when kids are sick,
when you pull your children out a day or two early to get a jump on spring
break and if you have to attend a funeral. Even if your teacher is on board
with your travel plans, the school district may not be since they will lose out
on cash. Is this fair? No, not really, but you can see where the schools are
coming from. Many schools across the country are functioning on insufficient
budgets. They need every dollar they can get.
As hard is it is to believe in this day and age, parents in the U.S. are being punished, yelled at and berated for trying to give their children a unique and educational experience.
Karen Presley Dawkins,
author of Family Travels on a
Budget, has found that "changes in school funding affect
how schools respond. If kids miss a certain number of days, the district loses
funding for that pupil." They can't choose between travel and truancy/skipping because
teachers are paid to teach. Also, larger class sizes and test scores affect the
schools and teacher bonuses as well. With 25+ in classes, it's difficult for
teachers to work individually with kids to catch them up.
I understand why the
schools are cracking down. They're not anti-travel, but they are burdened with
testing accountability. And they can get in trouble for favoritism too. It's a
Alternately, some teachers
are trying to do whatever they can to help you travel with your kids.
De Lorimier Dworkin was told by a teacher that "if I was determined to
take them out that I should call the kids in sick so the school district would
still get the money." The fact that a teacher even has to suggest this shows
where the education system is at right now. It's not looking at the welfare of
the student or the benefits of travel—school districts are simply looking at
the dollar signs and showing kids that it is OK to lie to a school to get time
Even with the extra work and burden it puts on teachers, some are still
willing to help. Dworkin goes on to explain after a talk with a 3rd-grade
teacher at her school," [She] told me that she gets it—families do get once
in a lifetime opportunities to travel somewhere and, when that occurs, she's
happy to put together an independent study program for a student. But then that
puts an extra burden on the teacher to review and correct everything—and
that's if the child even turns it in," Dworkin said. "This teacher had 11 kids out on
independent study (throughout the year, not at one time), that's almost half
the class! At least five kids never turned in all of the work. When I asked her
why she passed them, she said if she had failed that many then the school
ranking drops and her own performance review is affected."
Teacher Kate Clarke has a great attitude
towards travel. She loves to travel herself and has some great assignments that
are practical and even helpful while her students are on the road.
send school work, I ask them to write a journal of their trip (because that's
purposeful and authentic), read as many signs and brochures as possible and
work out money and distances etc. in conversations while they're away," Clarke said.
I've chatted with my son's kindergarten teacher, and she is excited
to see where my son travels to this year. She mainly has parents help their
child keep a journal of their trip to share with the class. I'm lucky to be in
a very proactive school with very active parents. Many of the parents in my
son's class would still want to do the homework (the one sheet we get per week
to do with our kids), and I know I would still have him work on his writing—but this isn't required.
As we start our school journey, I want my son to see
that there are consequences to being out of school and there will still be
homework to do no matter his age.
As hard is it is to
believe in this day and age, parents in the U.S. are being punished, yelled at
and berated for trying to give their children a unique and educational
experience. I'm not even talking about parents pulling their kids out of school
to take advantage of low-season rates at Disney World. These are parents trying
to show their children the magic of Europe, the architecture of Asia, the colonial
sights across the U.S. and creatures that can be found in Central and
The issue doesn't hit the papers as often as it probably should,
but plenty of parents have stories to tell.
Mary Penafiel Solio,
owner of the popular blog, The World
is a Book, has received multiple truancy letters. She receives them each
year if her children miss more than four days of school in the Vista School
District near San Deigo.
"After 6 absences,
you get to meet with the school attendance review board," Solio says.
Eileen Gunn in New York City has
found she can get away with the school year travel up until a certain age.
They finally agreed that if she missed NO school the next year, they would restore the credit. This could have meant she wouldn't graduate. She's an A student in honors Spanish who got to Cuba before any changes. She translated for the artists and even visited Che Guevara'a mausoleum—but according to one of the teachers on the panel, 'There are experiences in the classroom that can't be replicated.'"
"In NYC, I've been told you can get away with it until 4th grade. Then
attendance counts on your middle school applications (we don't have zoned
middle schools, and some are very competitive), so you really can't miss school
This is not the first time I've heard this.
Also, the higher up you go academically, the harder it can be to take your
children out of school simply because they don't want to miss anything. What about sports
practices and AP classes—missing even just one can cause
your child to fall behind if you aren't working alongside your child's teacher.
Jody Halstead had no problems with her school, but the state
threatened more than just a fine when she took her daughters out of school for more than 10 days in one year. The state threatened to take her children away from
"10 days is the max number of
unexcused absences in Iowa—and we exceeded that two years running. The letters
got more threatening with the final ones stating that my child could be
'removed from your home and placed in a care facility while your family is
investigated.' Oh, and we would be paying all the bills for care, food, etc."
Eventually, Halstead opted to
homeschool her daughters, not wanting to deal with any more harassment from the
Tiffany Turner Fite in
Washington State has been threatened by the school district.
"We were penalized and threatened with a
truancy visit for taking our (then) 4th- and 5th-grade boys out of school for six days. This notice came after us sending in plenty of notice and meeting with
each teacher to get assignments ahead of time. We tacked the six days on to a
weeklong February break they already had. The funniest thing is that the nasty
gram said 'We understand families enjoy vacation, but please take these
vacations during the scheduled times only. It's critical your child be in
school, as nothing outside of school can replicate the classroom experience.' Yeah,
we sure regret standing on the walls of Conwy Castle in Wales because of what
they missed in class. Right."
Michele Chan-Thomson brought
up a very good point on a Facebook discussion I recently had with travel
friends to dig into this issue even more.
"I think that it's interesting that many
schools are so rigid about being absent for family initiated travel, yet school
sports absences or even a two-week trip to France with the French Club during
the school year are perfectly fine. Last year, my high school freshman was
absent for 40 percent of his science classes during cross country season, and it was
not frowned upon at all."
Amy Whitley's middle schooler, however, got a
brutal wake-up call from his physical education teacher in Oregon, when he
missed school to go on a trip with his family.
"The last time we took our middle schooler out, we got
cooperation from every teacher except the P.E. teacher. He made my son's life
miserable with 'make up work' that involved pedaling a stationary bike during
his lunch hour for days, despite the fact that our trip away included daily
mountain biking, hiking and kayaking."
Marie Evans, a resident of Connecticut, probably got the harshest backlash
of all after taking her oldest daughter to Cuba.
"[My daughter] lost credit in her high school classes for our trip to Cuba. I
had to appear before a board to contest this—and lost. They finally agreed that if she missed
NO school the next year, they would restore the credit. This could have meant
she wouldn't graduate. She's an A student in honors Spanish who got to
Cuba before any changes. She translated for the artists and even visited Che
Guevara'a mausoleum—but according to one of the teachers on the panel, 'There
are experiences in the classroom that can't be replicated.'"
those teachers don't really get that there are experiences OUTSIDE of the
classroom that can never be found in a school either.
While we can all
appreciate the policies, we as parents who crave travel also need to find a way
to work with our school districts. Schools are penalized if kids aren't in
seats. Most truancy issues aren't due to parents wanting to travel with their
kids, but kids skipping class without some parents even knowing it
is happening. While this type of absence definitely needs to be monitored, a
parent-led absence to travel, which some say is the best education of all,
really needs to be written separately into school district policy.