Blog Article

Family Vacation vs. School Time: Is it ever ok to miss school?

January 19, 2015

The New York Time’s Motherlode blog kicked off a lively debate (159 comments so far) with a blog post titled Skipping School for Vacation: Good for Families, or Bad for Students.

It begins with a parent concerned that her child’s absence was deemed “illegal” and explores whether schools should allow such absences.

The way we see it, that’s the wrong question: Parents shouldn’t be worried about what the school will allow but what their children can handle.  They should pay attention to attendance not because of the rules, but because it matters for academic success, from prek through 12th grade. In the early grades, missing too much school can contribute to trouble reading. In middle and high school, absenteeism can predict dropout rates.Parents need to weigh these consequences as they plot their family vacations.

How many absences are too many? The tipping point seems to be 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days–excused or unexcused. That may sound like a lot, but it can be as little as two days a month, and that can add up pretty quickly.

The debate on the Motherlode blog reveals that some parents wouldn’t dream of taking their children out of school for any reason beyond illness or true emergencies. Others argue that there is value in a family vacation, both the enrichment that children experience in new places and the the time spent with parents. Still others differentiate between a once-in-a-lifetime trip and an off-season visit to Disney.

Many teachers weighed in, too, saying that the time off is disruptive to the students–not just those missing school but the students left behind who have to wait for others to catch up when they return. Some teacher bristle at having to prepare homework packets, only to see few student actually doing the work.

The blog offers a rubric for determining whether to take a child out of school:

For parents wrestling with the decision of whether to take their children out of school during term time, Sara Dimerman, an Ontario psychologist, suggests a simple acronym, FLAG, to test whether an “illegal” absence is advisable. Here is her advice (paraphrased, with her permission):

Frequency. Is this absence a rare treat, or a regular event? If you take your children out of school frequently, teachers may interpret your actions as lack of investment in school.

Length. How long will your child be out of school? A few days may be reasonable for some children, but for others, the loss of those same days could set them up for long-term struggle.

Ability. Will your child be overwhelmed by the missed instruction or collaboration with classmates? Does your child tend to get anxious or upset by situations like this? Take her temperament and ability into account.

Grade. Missing three days during first grade are not the same thing as missing three days during junior year of high school. Additionally, if your child is on a block schedule, those three days could easily equal an entire week or more of a semester schedule.

We would argue with the contention that early absences aren’t as important as those that come later. After all, research spells out the consequences of chronic absenteeism for early reading and math skills. But it’s true that the effects are often felt more immediately in high school, when absences can pull down a semester grade and affect a student’s GPA.

Join the conversation and let us know what you think!

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