Vacationing During the School Year
Parents planning their next family vacation may want to think twice about skipping out on school for those restorative days of rest and relaxation. While that sunny escape in January sounds enticing, educators are increasingly frowning upon the practice of taking vacation time outside the set weeks established by the school districts. They say the time off places an extra burden on teachers who are stretched with requests for make-up work, and it also forces students to miss important classroom time.
“It certainly comes up in school districts, and many districts have policies that urge parents not to do that,” says Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “We have a limited number of school days for youngsters. It’s very difficult to replicate the work that is missed.”
The issue of skipping school for vacations is a particular concern in affluent communities – although it occurs everywhere, say educators. Many parents say they don’t like to take children out of class, but faced with work constraints, busy schedules, and financial incentives to travel in off-peak times, they say pulling kids out of school for family vacations can be unavoidable.
For many parents, it’s hard to resist the tempting deals offered by the travel industry. Resorts lure family vacationers with discounted tickets and hotel accommodations during non-peak times; airfares are lower as well.
“There are often great deals and lower prices out there for family travel outside of established school vacations,” notes Jennifer Miner, a travel writer and co-owner of TheVacationGals.com, a family travel blog.
Planning vacations during school time is also prompted by the fast-paced world of many families today, notes Scott. “Parents are busy, and they are looking for valuable time to connect with others and family,” he says. “There are families with very high demands and very busy schedules, and no one can fault that. But one benefit has another loss.”
Dealing With Consequences
School systems discourage the practice of missing school days for the purpose of vacations, typically categorizing them as “unexcused absences,” for which California schools do not receive state funding. But aside from student handbook language about not allowing such absences, schools generally don’t have tough policies.
In middle and high school years, though, students may find teachers less willing to provide missed homework assignments or allow for make-up quizzes and tests. And students who play sports will often find they receive less playing time upon their return.
Educators worry about the overall impact of missing school days. “Teachers only have children 180 days to do their job,” says Beverly Hugo, vice chair of a Massachusetts school committee, who is also a parent and former teacher. “It’s the goal of school committees and school systems to establish an environment conducive to the very best learning. And it’s the goal of parents to promote faithful attendance, an excellent work ethic, good habits and responsibility.”
Besides, she says, not all students get back into the swing of things easily once they return. “It’s difficult if a child is working at a proficient or advanced level to lose school time and to have to catch up, but it’s harder if a child is already struggling,” says Hugo.
Some parents believe that as long as their children can make up the homework, it shouldn’t be an issue to take vacations during class time. They point out that a family vacation during school time can be just as valuable a learning experience as sitting in a classroom.
This proved true for Hugo, who had an opportunity to go to Hawaii for one week with her husband and three children a few years ago. Her oldest daughter missed some days of elementary school while away.
“Yes, there was guilt,” admits Hugo, but, she says, they turned the trip into “an experiential learning opportunity.” Her daughter produced a video about volcanoes, which included images of volcanoes they saw and interviews with volcanologists.
High School Headaches
In later years, however, Hugo decided against another family vacation that would pull her then high-school-age daughter out of school. It’s harder for older children – with college prep classes and sports activities – to miss school, she says.
Attendance policies are also stricter in high school. “In some high schools, if you’re absent for more than 10 to 15 days, you may not pass the course,” says Mary-Lou Breitborde, a university-level associate dean of education.
Though many parents have legitimate reasons for pulling children out of school, educators say they struggle with how to handle chronic absences for vacations. “The message that we send to children is whether or not [school attendance] is of value,” says Scott, a former school superintendent.
Parents, he says, need to consider these two tough questions: “How do I respect education, and how do I send that message to my youngster?”
Elizabeth White is a mother and freelance writer.