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Pulling Your Kids Out of School

I want to start this by saying that I pull my kids out of school from time to time without guilt.  I’m not just talking about having them miss a day due to a holiday or an appointment.  I’ve pulled them out to go to the White House and a literary tour of London, and I’ve also pulled them out for Disney World.  I don’t do it to be obnoxious, but sometimes the magical time to go somewhere falls during the school calendar; meaning, the time we can take off from work, the time of an event, or the price of travel.

But I don’t really get the ire over the principal’s response to the parent who took his kids out of school to go to the Boston Marathon.  His wife told the teachers beforehand the kids would miss school.  The family went on the trip.  The family returned and got a letter from the principal reiterating the rules of the school district, which the family cannot change just because they want their kids to see the Boston Marathon.

Because that’s really what the dad is fighting here.  No one said that their children were going to be punished for going on the trip.  Simply that the travel was an unexcused absence and too many unexcused absences have a consequence.  The letter was simply to make the family aware if they weren’t cognizant of this that they should consider how many unexcused absences they’ve now racked up because it could affect them in the future if they choose to take another trip within the same school year.

We’ve had the same discussion with our principal, and the only response is to nod and say, “Thank you, I understand the rules.”  Accept the unexcused absences on the report card, try not to rack up any more unexcused absences for the rest of the year, and move on.

The principal doing her job doesn’t make her actions “nasty,” as the dad stated.  It simply makes her the principal, who is conveying the guidelines set up by the school district.

There is a reason why schools have these rules and a reason why it behooves parents if they care about teachers to follow the rules to the best of their ability.  School absences are a major inconvenience to the teacher who now needs to catch up the student on the work they missed while they were away which often ties into the work that is happening when they return (which they likely won’t understand).  It throws off grading.

And even worse are parents who ask for work ahead of time.  It takes a lot of effort to put together lesson plans and they’re often shifted on the fly according to the abilities of the class at the moment.  It is unreasonable to think you can have the work ahead of time; to shift the teacher’s workload to fit one family’s schedule rather than the class needs or the teacher’s timetable.

So… really… are we actually going to say that the father was “fighting back against the zero-tolerance policy of the school district that is thought to be outdated and nonsensical.”

I just proved that it’s hardly nonsensical.  It makes perfect sense if the teacher’s workload is taken into consideration instead of just the family’s convenience.

And, again, no one is saying that the family can’t take a trip.  They are only saying that the days missed are unexcused.

I’ve been on both sides of the equation: as a teacher who needs to help a student learn what everyone else learned while they were away on vacation, and as a parent who knows that sometimes the best time to travel is during the school year.

We know the rules, we keep within the confines of the rules, and we make the commitment to teach our children everything they missed while they were away.  I don’t expect teachers to prepare anything for them before they leave, and I tell the kids they need to be caught up as soon as possible when they return home.  Getting them up to speed rests with me, the person who made the decision to create this hardship, not on the teachers who have no say over what we do as long as we stick within the rules.

Education happens in so many places other than the classroom, and schools are generally flexible and want kids to have beneficial experiences.  Really, we can work together with schools; we don’t have to work against them.


1 Deb Roby { 04.30.15 at 10:33 am }

An additional possible consideration when it comes to pulling kids out of school and getting unexcused absences: in many states, after a set number of these, the child cannot pass that grade. It’s beyond the control of the teacher or principal. And most parents do not know.

2 Mel { 04.30.15 at 10:37 am }

Which is a good reason to send a letter to the parent when they’re nearing that number.

In our county, educational travel may be an excused absence at the principal’s discretion, but it’s up to the parents to ask the principal ahead of time — not to just tell the teacher. That information is in the parent handbook. If parents read the literature sent home by the school, they would know this.

Not sure if it’s the same deal in this man’s school district.

3 Megan { 04.30.15 at 10:44 am }

This is such a tough topic. I used to be a teacher prior to becoming a stay at home mom and education is such a unique experience for each child. Some kids absolutely need to be in school every single day it is open. Missing a day for some kids is huge. On the other hand, some kids do have the ability to miss a day and it doesn’t hurt their academic progress. All kids benefit from experiences such as the Boston Marathon, a visit to the White House, etc. Experiences like those are so important. However, some kids can afford to miss school for those experiences and some kids really need to experience those things on the weekend or Summer. I highly suggest just having an honest conversation with your child’s teacher prior to a trip/experience and asking for their opinion on if your child is able to handle missing time. A teacher will really know your kid and what they can or can not handle. A Principal is most likely just going to recite standard rules to you.

4 Mel { 04.30.15 at 10:47 am }

That is so true, too. That a person may want to take their child out of school, but that may not be best for the child. And it really has to be a joint decision between the teacher and the parent because both know the child best from two different angles.

5 Mijk { 04.30.15 at 10:47 am }

Dutch children are requiered by law to go school. the director have to excuse you and if he doesn’t you break the law. We actualy have special government official check this. The fines can be big ( up to 1500 euro’s ) but they can get childpritectionservices in on you. Upsite we can send our kids alone to school/ the park when we feel they are ready. Cultural differences are so fascinating to me!

6 Delenn { 04.30.15 at 10:49 am }

Here! here!

I also have taken the kids out because of vacations that just don’t necessarily fit. I have never felt guilty–I have sometimes asked for the work, but only if there seems to be a mutual agreement on same. Usually, all parties are in agreement that it is fine. (I think the worst offense I did was taking my son out of school three days early before summer and he missed “moving up day” to high school.) This could be because we had a necessary communication line with the schools because of my sons special needs.

It is annoying to see something blown out of proportion…especially when I am sure a lot of schools and parents have dealt with these issues amicably.

7 ANDMom { 04.30.15 at 11:12 am }

I don’t actually believe in having kids miss school (more than a day, maybe two) for vacations – school is their job, we have breaks for travel. But anyways.

It always feels like we’re in battle with the school about absences .. in the other way. My son was out 30 times last year. (Hospitalized twice, plus immune system failure.) And they acted like I was INSANE for asking how we can help him keep up/make up. They don’t WANT us to teach them anything. Heck, I can’t even get them to tell me about special events/assemblies so I can reschedule his medical appointments. “Sometimes, kids miss things, dear, and that’s part of life and he has to learn that.”

It just really has to go both ways. Parents need to own the responsibility for taking their kids out of school – policies are what they are. If travel is an unexcused absence, factor that into your decision. Schools need to be open to discussing how kids will make up work, because kids WILL miss school for various reasons. No one has to be an ass about it.

8 StacieT { 04.30.15 at 11:28 am }

I do think it is important to remember that for many schools/districts the reason they want students in class has quite a bit to do with money. Yes, there is the learning portion that kids miss, but in reality the schools/districts often care about the financial bottom line. They don’t get money while a child is out (excused or not). Have enough students out, the budget suffers. The result is that policies such as these are created to keep kids in school. Ultimately, school districts can and will take parents to court when absences are excessive.

9 k { 04.30.15 at 11:57 am }

ANDMom – that’s great you don’t believe in taking your kids out during the school year. It must be very convenient that your kids have parents whose jobs allow that flexibility. Mine, do not. When you have a parent in law enforcement that parent doesn’t have the flexibility to say, take off two weeks during summer vacation just because it’s when the kids are on break. It’s not that easy. So by your logic my kids should just never get to go on a trip – educational or otherwise?

We took our kids out of school for my daughter’s regional gymnastics competition last year, for a trip to Disneyland this year, and for a funeral.

And Stacie is TOTALLY right. Much of the “policy” is about money. That said, we’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to have conversations with our kids teachers and get work made up or forgiven. That said, both my kids are doing well in school, and if they were struggling we may have made different decisions.

10 Mel { 04.30.15 at 12:01 pm }

I think it’s best for kids if you can schedule trips around their vacations, but it isn’t necessary best or even feasible for parents. We often have big work events during summer break that stop us from being able to take off, whereas Josh used to get off for a week in the fall when the kids were in school. Our vacations never aligned in order to use vacation time to go away together.

11 Mel { 04.30.15 at 12:03 pm }

ANDMom — will they assign a county tutor to help him make up work? I know they’re not stressed (and maybe they see him keeping up despite the absences), but our county assigns a tutor to help the child keep up when it comes to excused absences. Not unexcused ones.

12 Mel { 04.30.15 at 12:30 pm }

As a teacher, I wholly understand the parent’s desire to have their children visit the historical sites of Boston and experience what the father’s participation in the marathon entailed. Yes, they are educational experiences and nobody can deny their importance.

However, these ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT excused absences, and with that I agree with the principal completely. An EXCUSED absence is in the case of illness, medical appointments or treatment, or family issues such as funeral or bereavement.

I teach in an extremely wealthy school and very often we have students miss entire weeks to go skiing or to jet off to their private yachts for a cruise around the Mediterranean. Sure the kids can learn something, no one is deny that but these are NOT excused absences in any way shape or form.

Thankfully, our school supports teachers and we are not therefore required to spend hours preparing the work that these students will miss. This greatly upsets parents, but if you choose to pull your kid out of school for anything other than an excused absence you should not feel entitled for extra lessons, planning and preparation on part of the teacher. Selfishly parents think it is the teachers duty, not their own.
Ironically, as much as this infuriates us, most dedicated teachers WILL prepare work for students and help to catch them up upon their return because we care about the students and do not want them to suffer or fall behind. After all it is not their choice and should not suffer due to their parents’ decision.

So it is your choice to pull your child out of school, but please recognize that YOU should accept the consequences.

A child’s job is to go to school and with that also comes valuable daily life lessons that have nothing to do with academics. They also learn responsibility, dedication, time management, organizational skills, working as a team and ACCOUNTABILITY by showing up.

Yes, the principals letter was harsh, but I argue that the father’s response was worth. Boarding on offensive as disregards all that goes on at school beyond imparting skills and knowledge. If he devalues school and the education his son is getting so much perhaps he should home school him.

13 Kacey { 04.30.15 at 1:53 pm }

My problem is that schools seem to think they get a say in a child’s life outside their walls. What the child eats, assigning homework in the evenings, saying what is and is not an acceptable reason to pull a child out. These are outside of the job description of a school as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure our local teachers are glad we homeschool because I would doubtlessly be a pain in the ass.

14 Mel { 04.30.15 at 1:59 pm }

But all workplaces make demands on employees outside of the workplace: how you comport yourself in public can affect your job, what you post online. And beyond, what time you need to get to work, what you need to wear, how long you can take a break.

15 Kacey { 04.30.15 at 2:04 pm }

I guess I don’t see a public school as a work place so much as a service that you can take advantage of (or not) as a parent. A babysitter that told me what I could feed my child would find herself out of a job. Also school rules affect the entire family whereas, for instance, I do not have to adhere to the dress code for my husband’s job.

16 Mel { 04.30.15 at 2:12 pm }

That’s true, except for when the rules at my husband’s workplace affect me. For instance, if he’s told he needs to be there late, then that affects me if I need him home.

Definitely someone I hire — a babysitter — shouldn’t be dictating my parenting because in that case, I am doing the hiring. I am the boss in that power dynamic. But I don’t see a school as someone I hire.

I think the example works better if the school told the child what they could wear when they’re not in school. But in this case, the school is explaining to the parent the rules which govern the school. And they’re allowed to have rules, just as any workplace is allowed to have rules.

17 ANDMom { 04.30.15 at 2:15 pm }

k, I don’t believe I made a judgement on what YOU do. If you believe differently, go ahead. I personally don’t believe its a good decision, and so I don’t do it. It doesn’t affect me if you do though, so have at. Sorry if my beliefs offend you somehow.

Mel, no, they won’t assign him a tutor. It’s been sort of a big hoopla, really, because they wouldn’t even send home worksheets without an IEP meeting .. which takes time to schedule .. and I couldn’t BRING him, nor did I have any way to LEAVE him. It was really very odd, because I wasn’t even trying to make MORE work for them, just get the worksheets and topics so I could do it at home. Fortunately he’s done better this year health-wise, because at his yearly IEP it was again “we’ll figure that out later”.

18 Kacey { 04.30.15 at 2:23 pm }

Sure, they can have rules, but when those rules can lead to actual legal consequences for the parent I think it’s a bit of a ridiculous power play.I don’t really have a horse in this race, though to be fair.

19 stacey { 04.30.15 at 2:18 pm }

This hasn’t been an issue for us yet, since my twins don’t start kindergarten until the fall, but I’m sure it will become one because my husband is from Italy and his entire family is still there. I assume that at some point, we will be missing a day or more of school in order for us to be able to make a trip worthwhile (two weeks is barely enough time to get over jetlag from California and then enjoy some time there, and it’s usually difficult to find flights, not to mention extremely expensive, to fly on the weekends). However, I would totally accept that it is an unexcused absence and accept the consequences, and I would try to limit any other absences when possible. And I would work hard with teachers and administration to make it work well for everyone. And in general, I’ll assume we’ll be going in summers, but I know that may not always be possible.

20 Mel { 04.30.15 at 2:44 pm }

Kacey, the rules for attendance are in place to protect children. Education is compulsory in most states till the age of 16 for many reasons. Obviously, I am not referring to affluent, well nurtured and cared for children who may occasionally miss school for whatever reason. Sadly, the reality is that for MANY, many children school is a safer place to be than at home.Please note I am not referring to home schooled children here. It is the child’s right to get an education and it the parents’ job to ensure that their child attend school to get education. Truancy is a legitimate problem and thus there are rules in place to ensure that there are consequences for parents and children. Yes, I understand fully well that this would not be the case for many of the blog readers here, but these rules really are to protect children.

21 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.30.15 at 2:54 pm }

I agree with you, about taking into account both sides.

The school system needs to have a policy in place in order to serve the group. The parents need to have the discretion to consider the whole array of learning opportunities that fit in with their value system. Not each child has the same academic needs, and that’s where the fine-tuning on the part of the parents can take place.

As long as the consequences are reasonable, known to them, and willingly undertaken.

22 nicoleandmaggie { 04.30.15 at 4:00 pm }

Growing up, my mom wouldn’t even take me out of school for a dentist appointment. But with my kids… I can give them all sorts of opportunities that my parents couldn’t, one of which is the ability to tag on to business trips with me to travel. I go to the conference, DH takes off work and takes the kids around, making for a highly subsidized vacation since hotel and me are both paid for. They’ve been to CA and Canada and DC and Boston and…so on. Fortunately we can help DC1 catch up and he goes to a private school so it’s just us paying, not the federal/state/etc. government. So there seems to be no hard feelings from the school.

23 Working mom of 2 { 04.30.15 at 4:36 pm }

Agree with principal here…if everyone just pulled their kids out whenever they wanted it’d be a free for all. And very difficult for the teachers. and if school are expected to just sit back and let it happen with no letters etc. then it WILL start to happen that people do whatever they want.

24 loribeth { 04.30.15 at 5:07 pm }

I missed an entire month of school when I was in kindergarten. My grandmother fell down the stairs & broke BOTH her ankles, & so we all went there for Christmas & stayed part of January so my mother could help her out. I had my 6th birthday there & had a party with some of my cousins & neighbour kids that I played with. I know my absences were recorded on my report card, but I don’t think anything was said by my teacher; at least, my mother’s never mentioned anything. Of course, back then, kindergarten was optional and private; my mother had to pay for me to attend. And it seems like the younger you are, the less critical it is that you attend consistently. I could already read when I was in kindergarten, so it’s not like I was missing a lot academically. Some children will have a harder time catching up than others, and parents should probably take that into consideration.

25 a { 04.30.15 at 5:10 pm }

Yeah, I didn’t really understand the guy’s response to the principal. If you make a choice to pull your kids from school, you must realize that there are consequences to doing so. Otherwise, school attendance would be optional.

Our school district seems to consider any absence unexcused. My daughter was sick for 2-3 days and we got a letter about unexcused absences. That, I have a problem with. But as it turns out, there are apparently some people who do not consider it worth their time to get their butts out of bed on a daily basis to take their kids to school. Thus, policies and consequences.

If the dad is so offended by the policy and considers it intrusive to his families plans, perhaps he should consider homeschooling. No one to answer to regarding your school hours – only your curriculum.

26 a { 04.30.15 at 5:10 pm }


27 Megan { 04.30.15 at 5:51 pm }

This is definitely a controversial topic and as a former teacher, I believe each child’s educational needs are very unique. I Just wanted to add I used to teach in a low income school and many, many, many times when I would ask a kid why they missed school, they would say things such as:
-I didn’t feel like coming.
-My mom didn’t feel like taking me.
-I wanted to watch my favorite tv show.
-I wanted to stay home and play.

and many times it was just a day here or there. I had kids who wouldn’t come to school for up to a month with no communication to me or the school at all. So, I really believe the attendance policy is in place to protect kids. Many families just do not understand the importance of education. Education is a unique journey for each child and each child needs different things so it is a hard topic to rule on.

28 Megan { 04.30.15 at 5:52 pm }

was not* just a day here or there

29 Noemi { 04.30.15 at 6:49 pm }

I haven’t had time to read all the comments (I want to but I’m about to board a plane) but in case someone else hasn’t mentioned it, I think it’s important to also mention that in many states, if a student isn’t at school the school loses money. Funding at some schools can be really tight, and that missing money can hurt (and just because a district seems well off doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter–the homes in our district cost a lot but because of Prop 13 and the way CA schools are funded we actually really struggle to provide what parents expect). Anyway, just another aspect of a complicated issue. I really appreciated your take on it. I was getting frustrated by a lot of the comments I was reading on FB.

30 Tracie { 04.30.15 at 7:57 pm }

I actually saw, and read, these two letters last night. I thought the letter from the school was professional and understandable, and the letter from the parent was a little obnoxious. Almost like it was written to be shared with a wider audience. I could be wrong – and even if I’m right there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. But I’m tired of the overhyped indignation over things that are really small and simple. I think it is fine to take your kids out of school for special experiences, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some kind of consequence on the other end (staying late to make up work, absences that aren’t excused, etc).

31 Jess { 04.30.15 at 8:54 pm }

Thank you, Mel, for making this hyped up thing into something clearly understandable and pretty straightforward and reasonable. I did not see anything obnoxious about the principal’s letter. An unexcused absence is an unexcused absence, and the rules are the rules. There’s not there to stifle children or families, they’re there to prevent truancy. Because children are legally required to be in school for a certain number of days before agencies are involved, TO PROTECT CHILDREN, in the best interest of children getting a quality education. I agree that sometimes trips can also add to a quality education, but if taken outside breaks, they must be accepted as the unexcused absence that they are. People cannot just do whatever the heck they want. It’s why we have speed limits and laws to protect people. There is a difference between laws to ensure that every child gets a good education and schools interfering with parenting decisions. Just like anywhere else, any decision comes with a consequence. You have the right to make your decision, you just have to accept the consequences that go with it.
I am a teacher and I have had to provide work ahead of time, and it can be really challenging for all the reasons you stated. I am also a special education teacher, and so plans are REALLY REALLY REALLY fluid. A day or two is not so much a big deal (although your child may end up doing more than we actually got to), but a week or two is not reasonable. I kind of blame social media on this one being so hyped… it’s easy to raise ire and get people worked up when it races around twitter or facebook or whatever else is out there, with or without the full context.

32 Chickenpig { 05.02.15 at 8:01 am }

Everything you said is true. And now the principal is probably getting dragged through the mud by the school board and superintendent because the school is being made to look bad all over the internet.

Schools do get “nasty” about the rules, though, and this note wasn’t nasty. I’ve seen nasty. My son has extended year services. They have been pretty much mandated by the specialists who diagnosed him. This means that he gets exactly 2 weeks (besides winter and spring breaks) a year off, one between the end of school and beginning of EYS, and one between EYS and the school year. My husband and I do our best to not have him miss any school, but hello, there is fun to be had, and his siblings deserve to be able to leave town for more than a weekend. Added to this fun is that I work in the museum field, which means I work all weekend…all summer long. But take our son out for a few days for vacation and we get the nasty letter, “Your son has been ordered to be in summer school and you have the nerve to not go bla bla bla bla bla all this money and you think your son is special and you have some nerve and bla bla bla bla” Perhaps this summer I will not have any problems taking my son out of EYS now that this letter has hit the fan? (and yes, I do give them advanced notice, sometimes as much as a month. When vaca is planned, they get the notice.)

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