Is It Okay to Pull Your Kids Out of School for a Family Vacation?

Reading in the Pool - Family Vacation
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Thinking about taking your kids out of school for a family vacation? It may seem like no big deal, but don't be surprised if you meet with some resistance. It's a hot-button topic that can draw strong opinions from parents and educators alike. 

Pros and Cons of Ditching School for Vacation Time

There are some good reasons why parents might plan a family vacation during the school year. Many parents believe that travel is educational in itself and there is great value to expanding a child's world.

On a practical note, travel is much less expensive and destinations are less crowded during off-peak times compared with spring break or summertime. There is even an argument that school policies that forbid families from taking children out of school during off-peak travel times is unfair to those who would not otherwise be able afford to take any family vacation at all. 

Some families cannot take vacation in the summer. When parents have jobs that offer little flexibility in scheduling vacation time, they take vacations when they can.

Others might argue that their kids get good grades and can afford to miss a day or two.

On the other hand, educators are under constant pressure to stay on schedule. They insist that good attendance is one of the keys to academic success and it can be disruptive to the whole class when one child misses school unnecessarily. In addition, teachers may feel an unfair burden to schedule extra help sessions or make-up tests to get a kid who has been absent back on track. 

Checklist: Taking Your Child Out of School for Vacation

Is it okay to take your kids out of school? Or should it be avoided at all costs? That is something each family needs to decide for itself. But whatever your inclination, you should think it through. Here are some questions to ask:

What is your state and school policies? There's a wide spectrum for how different states approach unnecessary absences. Each state has its own truancy laws, which vary in strictness and penalties. Consider that, until 2015, truancy was a class C misdemeanor in Texas; even after its decriminalization, hefty fines are in place for offenders. And the Lone Star State is not alone. In several states, parents can be fined for taking their kids out of school for more than a few days at a time.

Likewise, no school encourages unexcused absences, but some schools have strict attendance policies regarding missing school for a vacation, even going so far as to deem it "illegal." Other schools take a holistic view, considering the child's grades and how many previous absences have occurred during the year. Most schools will permit a few missed school days, so long as students make up missed work within a reasonable amount of time. Talk to other parents about their experiences, and contact your child's teachers or school administrator to find out how the school handles absences due to travel.

How many days of school would your child miss? Obviously the longer the vacation, the harder your child will have to work to make up what was missed. Shorter trips are more advisable, and larger trips work best when piggybacked on a scheduled school break.

Tip: When choosing travel dates during the school year, think strategically.Consider extending a long three- or four-day holiday weekend into a getaway. By adding a single vacation day to the beginning or end of an existing school break, such as Columbus Day Weekend or Presidents Day Weekend, your family will enjoy a longer getaway while your child misses fewer days of school. During the week of Thanksgiving, many schools have a two-day week, with class in session only Monday and Tuesday. This scenario gives families the opportunity to plan a nine-day weekend-through-weekend trip, yet kids only miss two days of school.

Would your child miss any major tests? When it comes to missing school, not every week is equal. Take a look at your school's calendar with an eye toward testing weeks. Typically, there are certain weeks (often around the middle and end of each quarter) when there are more important tests than usual. In the spring there may be an entire week or two of standardized testing. Your child will want to avoid being absent during these times. 

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How old is your child? In general, it is easier for younger kids in elementary school to miss a few days of school. As kids get older and progress into middle school and high school, the stakes become higher and it can be harder to pull up grades after an absence, especially if your family vacation falls too near the end of a quarter.

In general, as kids move through middle school and high school, teachers become increasingly inclined to put the onus on the student to find out what schoolwork was missed and schedule make-up labs and tests. A very mature teen might be able to manage without any trouble, but most kids will need some guidance. 

Is your child doing well in school? Some kids can miss a few days of school and get caught up without missing a beat. Other kids will struggle with concepts or become stressed out with juggling missed work and current homework. Consider your child's academic standing and also his temperament.

Is your child's teacher on board? Teachers might not love the idea of a student missing class to go on a vacation, but they will surely appreciate being given ample notice. Try to give several weeks notice and find out the teacher's preferences for how assignments should be completed. Confirm how long your child will have after her return to hand in missed work and take missed quizzes or tests.

Does your child understand the downside? Before leaving on vacation, make sure your child understands that skipping school for a vacation comes with a sting in the tail. He is still be responsible for completing missed schoolwork and taking missed quizzes and tests. So come up with a plan that makes sense. Will your child bring classwork along on vacation or will he make up the work when he returns?  Explain that, after your trip, there may be a few afternoons of extended homework until he is caught up.

The decision to take your child out of school is not as simple as it may seem at first, and no matter how well planned, school absences tend to be disruptive. As always, good communication is key. Reassure your child's teacher that vacations during the school year will be the exception and not the rule, And impress upon your child that taking a fun trip means there will be extra work in order to get caught up.