Over the past few days, the Internet has been buzzing about whether it should be considered illegal for parents to pull their young kids out of school for a family vacation. I have plenty of friends who are teachers, so I understand why this may be frowned upon in schools: Kids will have to catch up on missed assignments creating more work for teachers and administrators, and in some cases, state funding for a school is linked to student attendance. But should it be illegal? That seems like a stretch.
According to the Department of Education, it's up to the local education agency, or school district, to define what counts as an unexcused, or illegal, absence. It's recommended that districts consider how each of the following scenarios could be both excusable and inexcusable before they make their decisions: student illness, family illness or death, legal obligations (such as court dates, lawyer meetings, or probation) and other family reasons. This last category includes travel.
Many school districts across the country consider family travel an inexcusable reason to pull children out of school for days at a time. Illegal absences, which do not bring about any legal action but may count against the student when it comes to grades or end of year attendance awards, are quickly handed out. One mom wrote in an essay for The Stir that these illegal absences are unfair to parents and even shame them for wanting to enrich their child's education outside of the classroom and spend quality time as a family. These days, 56 percent of working moms and 50 percent of working dads say they struggle to balance family time with work life, so these vacations are more than necessary.
While I don't have any children, I can't help but think back on my own childhood when family vacations were naturally a highlight of the school year. Sure, my sister and I had built-in vacation time in our schedules, but summers were spent away at camp and just because it was "spring break" in the academic world didn't mean my parents had time to take off from work. I asked my parents if they ever faced the threat of an illegal absence when they took us out of school. "Typically, we had to call the school, on a daily basis, and report an 'under the weather' situation," my dad recalled. "The school caused parents to 'lie' so funding would still come in," my mom added. That's right, schools would rather think a student was perpetually sick, for five days straight, no doctor's note required, instead of accepting that parents want to spend some time with their kids. So during a trip to Disney World, my parents called my elementary school every morning to tell the attendance office that I was "still sick," and would be out from kindergarten.
Do I remember what I missed in class that week? Of course not. I still learned my ABCs and how to tie my shoes on time. While I'm not saying that it's okay for children to frequently miss school at any age, I am saying that the memories of riding Dumbo and eating breakfast next to Goofy are ones I still cherish.
Melissa Bykofsky is the associate articles editor at Parents who covers millennial trends and pop-culture. She wishes she still owned the cool '90s outfits her mom dressed her in as a kid (in adult sizes, of course). Overalls are back in style! Follow her on Twitter @mbykofsky.
Image: Family Vacation via Shutterstock