Perhaps you have been waiting for the time of life in which your family is prepared to take a special trip, a longer trip, or your first international trip. Maybe your kids are newly in all day school or you have taken them out for long weekends, but never more than a day or two over a planned school break. Although this can be intimidating, I have some suggestions to face this dilemma, respect your child’s teacher and school and proceed confidently in your planning.
Of course, it is ideal if your trip can coincide with a planned school break such as Fall, Winter or Spring Break, but sometimes there is a special event (such as a family wedding) or a destination which is preferable to visit at times other than those. Let’s consider the questions your might be having.
Is it Legal to Take my Kids on Vacation?
Federal and state laws regarding students regularly attending school aim to prevent chronic absenteeism due to barriers to attendance, prevent drop out, falling behind and preventing abuse and neglect. These same laws could be interpreted to prevent the type of family trip mentioned above, but in most cases, this type of concern can be prevented with proper communication. The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 required schools to begin reporting their “chronic absenteeism” rates, the definition of which varies, but typically falls between 15-18 days per year.
Truancy, the absence of a child from school without permission, is the terminology placed upon kids with many unexcused absences. Truancy can be defined by state laws and by individual school district’s attendance policy. Some states require parents sign a form acknowledging their responsibility to bring children to school – such as the Becca Bill in Washington requires this when students are between 8-18 years of age. Some districts have an automatic policy of sending a truancy letter notifying parents when children have missed a certain number of percentage of days. The letter serves as a warning to communicate with the district or that additional steps will be taken with additional absences. Some states allow for parents to be charged with a misdemeanor that carries a potential jail sentence or fine. This all sounds pretty intimidating and it is important to know the laws of your state. Here are links by state regarding truancy and compulsory attendance laws:
Once you are knowledgeable about your state’s laws, you are ready to prepare communication regarding your trip.
How Should I Communicate with our School?
This questions assumes that you WILL communicate with your school in advance. I have written extensively about the details of your communication and provided templates for your communication here. Prior to your communication, make sure you have checked school calendars and are aware of any major events that fall during your absence. For example, missing state testing requires for your to set up a make up time. Schools normally account for this since some students will be ill. Identifying any extra hurdles to assisting in your absence and transition back for the teacher and administrator reduces effort on their part.
Be sure to notify the teacher and administrator no more than two weeks in advance (unless there are extenuating circumstances), but at least a week out. You want to leave enough time to coordinate any pre-work, work to take along, and have discussion about expectation upon return.
Even if there was not any specific homework assigned, plan to follow upon return (and after your child has been back in class) to see if there is any catch up work or practice on which you should focus. For older kids, aiding them in checking their online assignments and looking for missing grades will prevent later headaches.
It has been my experience that teachers and administrators have welcomed our trips, particularly when the focus has been educational and/or adventure. Teachers and administrators want what is best for the kids and acknowledge that trips like those offer learning not otherwise available in the classroom.
Our children have always been excited to share mementos or photos from our trips and often teachers have invited the kids to submit a journal or share with the class upon their return to class.
What if You Receive Push Back from the School?
If you efforts to communicate give any indication that the staff is not supportive of your plans, ask for a call or meeting. If it can be avoided at all, do not leave on your trip without furthering the conversation. Not knowing the response of the staff at your school to your trip can provide unnecessary anxiety.
If you are told that you are breaking their policy and will receive some form of consequence or legal response – although unlikely, take this seriously. Have a conversation with a member of a higher administrative team or consult an educational attorney or parents rights organization which vary by state. Certainly, the goal of the trip is not to make a hostile environment for child and all attempts at reasonable discussion should continue. Ask if staff has other concerns that make your child’s absence more than a notification of absence. If there are legitimate concerns about your child’s ability to stay on top of schoolwork or if they are already struggling, this is a family discussion that should occur prior to missing multiple days of school.
How Many Days Can My Child Miss?
There is no clear answer to this questions. As mentioned above, know the law in your state and the attendance policy at your school. If you plan to miss a month of school (for example), you should consider your child’s age, how work is communicated, and whether your child can honestly rejoin their class or classes where they left off. Each family and school situation must be considered to know this answer.
My family has traveled for up to three weeks during the school year, but planned it around Spring break, making nine of those days planned school breaks. As my children get older, I am trying to reduce the total number of days outside of breaks since their classroom environment and teachers change more frequently throughout the year.
Use Your Best Judgement
Nobody wants to come home from a trip to a monstrous pile of homework, upset school staff, or worse. Be knowledgeable and be communicative for the best results. Be proactive and eliminate this concern to better enjoy your trip!