unexcused absence kills

Disclaimer: I taught school for three years, and I have many friends who are wonderful schoolteachers. I really do understand the unfair, beyond-no-fun burden that kiddos’ absences place on teachers. Make-up work is a butt. But I still think there are some really good, even if unexcused, reasons for skipping school.

I stumbled upon a Boston Globe article (2.14.14) the other day: “Dispute Rages Over Unexcused School Absences for Travel.” As someone who has pulled her girlies out of school many (many) times to go gallivanting off to one locale or another, I grinned and read on.

The article quoted several parents who felt they were justified in taking their kids out of school, and one person who was understandably frustrated by it: the assistant superintendent for Boston City Schools.

“We’re not educating kids the same way as when I went to school,” she said. “It’s much more rigorous, and there’s a lot of pressure to perform. So any time a student is out — even one day — it’s a major loss, and puts a child behind.”

She feels that a single unnecessary day is too much. “We’re teaching critical thinking, problem solving, understanding and applying concepts. Parents may think that their kids are young, they’ll catch up, they’re not missing that much, but indeed they are.”

Parents disagreed. I kind of love this mom who said: “If kids are only taught that learning occurs in a classroom, behind a desk with a teacher at the front telling them what to do, it can ultimately limit what they consider learning. We shouldn’t be learning for school, we should be learning for life.’’

What do you think? And what kinds of things would you/have you taken your kids out of school for?

(My answer’s in the comments. 300-word limit, you know.)

30 thoughts on “unexcused absence kills

  1. Lesley

    I don’t get too uptight about them missing school. When Rob was in 1st grade he missed 16 days while we went to China (were there while you guys were in Cambodia). Caleb always gets the mean letter about missing too much school due to medical stuff and the principal says to ignore it and he has to send that letter to everyone over a certain threshhold (maybe 7 days). That being said, Rob hasn’t missed an entire day this year and we want to take him out a day next week, during the Iowa Assessments no less, because we have to take Caleb to Cleft Clinic a few hours away and thought it would be a good time to visit Kalona. He is the one having a fit. He doesn’t want to miss a day. Jeepers – they don’t get prizes like some schools but he is in tears when we discuss it.

    In the mid-90’s when I taught high school in Tulsa, kids automatically failed if they misses more than 20% of classtime. It didn’t matter the reason. Harsh.

  2. Elly

    As a homeschooling parent I’ve gained an insight into education that I did not have before and my opinion has changed, especially as the kids go past 3rd grade. For one child, that missed series of days may not matter, but it may matter for the class as a whole. It may make it so the teacher is spending time catching that child up with what went on in class, whether it is a skill (working on division) or an ongoing project. The school lessons often build off of each other, so if my kid misses a day of Mythology where they did a project writing their own myth, and three weeks later the class circles around back to that project to discuss how what we now see as myths were once beliefs, that child is going to be out of luck, they’re not going to have that base and the teacher is going to have to work around that. I think that can be really frustrating for a teacher who is working his/her hardest to make the material fun and interesting. Especially when they are being judged on a standardized test so they are trying to get the fun in as well as the pure rote information. I think I’d be mad if there were kids who kept missing class when they weren’t sick. And I think that would be true if I was the teacher OR another parent in the class whose child was being tangentially affected.

    My husband’s job as a firefighter makes it so we don’t take family trips at the same time other people do. He may get his vacation time in the middle of October and February, and that’s when we we’re going to go. Once in 12 years together has he had a June vacation, and that was a crazy fluke. We got a lot of hell for it when our kids were in Kindergarten and Pre-K in our public school and wanted to take them out for a week before spring break (Kindergartener missed 4 days, one was a ‘party,’ pre-k missed three HALF days). Given that this school was terrible and even our K teacher confided that she spent most of the day making sure these kids weren’t fighting and that everyone got home in one piece because she had more than 30 kids with varying levels of social/learning/personal/mental issues and no real assistance, we weren’t concerned when we had to sign a paper saying we knew we were “jeopardizing” our children’s education. In fact, I laughed at the principal to his face, he was an idiot and should not have been allowed to be in charge of anything more than some actual caterpillars. When we were at a smaller, excellent, private school, our teachers weren’t THRILLED in 1 – 3rd grades, but they understood. They were a very family oriented school and understood the importance of family time, travel and exploring. They worked with us to make sure our kids weren’t going to be completely missing something, but we were also very willing to work with them to make sure they were there every single other day. In the end, by the time my daughter was through third grade and we were contemplating fourth grade, we realized that the extended absences would be problematic, not just for the class, but would start to affect her academically. That was one of our (multiple) reasons for going to the homeschooling model. And we’re very happy we did. I would feel badly for pulling my kids out above 4th grade, the way the classroom works changes to give the kids more independence and control over their own work and they are responsible for follow through and working together. I think I’d be less concerned about a day here or there, but I think it would be really important to be well connected with the teacher to make sure it WASN’T affecting the kids (mine or the class in general).

    NOTE: This is based entirely on our experience as a college minded family who attended a great, small, private school that worked with us and our change to a homeschooling family. If my child was being judged and taught solely based on common core and standardized tests, I do not know what my opinion would be. That is a very different situation with different consequences.

  3. Mary Kate

    What an interesting article! I guess I am extreme example, between my health issues and my adventures as a child actor growing up (haha), I missed the max number of school days every year after 4th grade (which was around 30 days). When I was younger it was fine – I had great family/friend support to stay caught up in school (even a church friend who taught me Latin over the phone every day). But by the time I was in high school, it was tough. My math/science coursework was too difficult for my parents and I to figure it out on our own anymore and I started to fall behind. While my teachers were super kind to help me before & after school (I even took a history final at a teachers kitchen table after the school year ended), it became too much. It was also hard relationally – hard to keep up with friends and other fun non-academic school activities when I was gone so much – I started getting left out. I gave up my acting hobby and all the constant absences because I enjoyed school & friends so much and wanted to succeed there. And I don’t regret it! So, I guess I see both sides! The experiences I had while I was “missing school” – are some of my favorite memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world – but there were real difficulties from missing too much.

  4. Amy Jones

    I am guilty! My kids just missed 6 1/2 days of school to go on a family vacation. We went to the Caribbean with 15 other family members, who knows if my kids will have that opportunity again. This was a wonderful present from grandma, not something we could easily affors on our own.

    My kids had homework and other assignments before we left, and everything was completed and turned in the first day back. My kids had real world experiences. Swimming with stingrays, seeing Aztec ruins, making friends with kids on the other side of the country and swimming in water so blue and clear they couldnt believe their eyes.

    They will never get those experiences in Ohio. Would Ido this all the time….NO! Would i do it again….ABSOLUTELY! !!!

  5. Sarah

    There seems to be a movement in parenting lately. More and more are understanding the importance of teaching our children the concept of life long learning. High fives to those who are willing to teach our kiddos that the world is to explore, both inside and outside of the classroom.

  6. Krista

    We were the kids who went to dentist appointments at 7a.m. so that we wouldn’t miss any school. I complained as much as I could (especially seeing kids get signed out at 11, and then taken out to McDonalds after the appointment, only to be signed in an hour before the final bell…I’m not bitter…)
    However, I was signed out for a full day for an audition to be a part of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” when the Broadway show came to town. When I was cast in the show, I was out two hours early every day for two weeks. I’m sure there was stink about it…even then.
    But gosh darn it, my homework was done and completed–it was the only way mom would let me do the show. There was a balance. And that opportunity taught some balance. I very much credit that experience to my theatre career today! Were the two hours of English and History that I missed detrimental to my overall education? No. Because I was encouraged to do something amazing, knowing that my work needed to be done as well.
    Thanks mom 🙂

  7. Megan

    I think taking them out a few days here and there is fine. My school district has never given us any grief about that. But when you enroll them in school, you are expected to be there. Just like any job they have when they are older. Its all about balance. I think its necessary for a school district to set some boundaries or people would be all over the place.

  8. Amy

    Do schools get penalized for a certain number of absences and that is why they have these rules and/or polices?? Maybe that’s why they appear to be so ‘over the top’ when students miss more than the allotted days??

  9. Tara

    People may judge me for this, but this is my number one reason for planning to homeschool (when the time comes; ours are toddlers right now). There are other reasons, but they don’t even come close. We have family out-of-town and our school district is SO strict when it comes to missed school. You get referred to the state child services department for too many missed days no matter how well your kids are performing or how reasonable the absences. We’ll homeschool and go wherever we want, whenever we want. I don’t care if my kids standardized test scores are lower than their peers. SO MANY other things are more important to us.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Well, I won’t judge you, because we homeschool our girls for the same reason (and a few others). School cramps our style. 😉 Nina (8) just said to me, “If you go to school, then when you get to the age of 20, you spent most of your whole life in a classroom!”

  10. valerie

    We took our kids out for an extra 4 days after Christmas break for a mission trip to Uganda. At my daughter’s middle school, we got a call from the counselor, had to meet with the principal and assistant principal – it was a HUGE hoo-haw. They wanted us to UN-ENROLL her from school – for 4 days – and re-enroll her when we got back, so that she didn’t have 4 unexcused absences on her record. If you have 7 unexcused absences within any 30 day period, you have to go to truancy court, so they were trying to avoid that possibility, but really? At my son’s elementary, they were like, “Eh. It’ll be fine. If you get the mean letter, just ignore it.” There’s no way sitting in a classroom for the first week after Christmas break (mostly reviewing) would have been more beneficial than the life experience they had.

  11. Amy Hurst

    Our school allows 5 personal days per year…and we usually use them! My husband owns a landscaping business, as well as a nursery business, so he is usually busy any time the kids have off of school! Family time is very important to us, and thankfully our teachers and principal (and basketball coaches!) all agree and send us with their blessing. The elementary teachers even gave us work ahead of time so the kids wouldn’t have to take it with them! I do have to help them through the work they are missing, but so worth it! Life is so much more than sitting in a classroom, learning for achievement tests! It’s learning how what you do at school works in real life!!!

  12. Sarah

    What concerns me is when the school starts to think they know better than the parents. God entrusted our children to us (parent’s) because He knows we are what’s best for them. As long as parents are responsible, know what the risks/benefits are, I don’t see why the school should even comment. Not to be rude, but this has irritated me for some time!

  13. Suzanne

    My parents used to take me out of school to go shopping at Downtown Dayton Days, and I loved it! We didn’t buy much, but the time I got to spend with my parents was priceless to me. Also, I remember getting to miss school to hang out with missionary kids during our week of missions conference at church. Great memories!

    We take our kids out of school for a week to go to on vacation at the end of the school year. So far we haven’t had any issues with the teachers or school, but our oldest is only in second grade.

  14. Rachelle Moon

    maybe this is totally irrelevant but as I was reading this it made me wonder, is the same philosophy of, “learning only happening in a classroom” seeping into our churches? Do we believe that discipleship only happens at a church building? I know, I probably need to cut the caffeine or something…

  15. Amanda Sims

    We got in “truancy trouble” for taking our daughter out for 4 days. We went to Oklahoma for me to attend a work conference, but also to investigate the area because we were considering living there. (And we ARE, come July.) We don’t have a host of people who can keep our daughter overnight for several days while we are away, and we felt it was important to bring her along because she would learn about her (potential) new town and state. We fully explained what we were doing, and NOPE it wasn’t good enough. We received a scolding letter about unexcused absences, EVEN THOUGH we pre-arranged for our daughter to do the work during the trip.

    We shrugged it off. We’re not going past the “10 unexcused absence” mark (where you get in REAL trouble) so I decided I didn’t care enough to worry about it. But it IS sad that education is so narrowly defined. Should I complain when they take my kid on a field trip that takes her out from behind her desk and away from her “rigorous” classwork? 😉

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Does this “truancy trouble” go on your permanent parenting record? 😉 Yes, it’s funny that school field trips and assemblies are fine but parent-designed/led field trips are not.

  16. Jen Hanson

    Melissa has a point (previous comment) – If schools believe absences will cause students to fall behind, how can they justify releasing sports teams and such for “excused” absences? Aren’t those schools willing jeopardizing the althetes’ educations?

    I think it kinda depends on your student too. If he/she is a really self-diciplined student, for whom academics come easily, then it’s probably not a big deal to miss some days. However, if your student is already having trouble staying on top of schoolwork, then it might not be worth taking them out of the classroom for opportunities of alternate educational experiences. (I never had trouble catching up when my parents took me out of school, but my brother would have had a harder time with it.)

  17. Marla Taviano Post author

    My girls have been blessed with some pretty awesome teachers who (to the best of my recollection) have always said things like, “Go! Have fun! Go learn things somewhere else besides here at school!” (maybe they secretly hated me deep down inside)

    We’ve taken the girls out to go on our Zoo Trip (they missed 6 days of school total). We took Livi and Nina out for THREE WEEKS to go to Cambodia (Ava was already homeschooled). And we’ve taken them out for lots of other things like, “Our cousins are in town!” or “Beach vacation!” (Livi and Nina both missed graduations for that one) or “I’m sad that we had to come back from Cambodia!” and even more un-excuse-able things than that.

    We finally decided to just let them quit school. 😉

  18. Melissa

    I think there needs to be a balance, as with anything. I missed school for excused absences (school related activities) and does it really make that much of a difference, if that’s (the above) your argument, that they miss too much school and fall behind, between excused and unexcused? Not really. I think some time is fine but at some point (like weeks) it will become a problem, but I do not think one or two days will have a negative effect. I survived. Haha.

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