As schools reopen, some parents are yielding to a timeless temptation: Playing hooky.
and her siblings Alex, 9, and Katelyn, 12, missed school in Denver on Aug. 21. Their father Scott took them on a camping trip to Halsey, Neb., to see the solar eclipse in totality. Katelyn had told her teachers she’d be absent and Mr. Reed let Erica’s and Alex’s teachers know, too. But he didn’t ask permission.
Mr. Reed has loved astronomy since seeing
walk on the Moon on his sixth birthday, he says, adding, “I want my own kids to have a similar kind of wonderment and hope” about future discoveries.
Parents often dream of traveling with their children to teach them about science, geography and culture. Many teachers support them, as the Reed children’s teachers did. Other teachers bristle at the extra work such absences impose on them. Resistance from school officials is also mounting amid closer tracking of student absences.
took her sons, Colin, 11, and Cooper, 8, out of school for five days in May to visit a Bigfork, Mont., dude ranch, Flathead Lake Lodge. She was happy to see the boys set aside their phones and iPads to ride horses and build makeshift forts, says Ms. Milnes, owner of Family Travel Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J. “They’re going to have really special memories.”
Ms. Milnes notified her sons’ school and teachers a week in advance and had them complete homework while away. Still, she received a letter from the school after the trip, saying Colin, who had missed some additional days because of illness, needed to improve his attendance.
A 2015 federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires states to report chronic absenteeism—usually defined as being absent for any reason on 10% of school days or more, typically about 18 days a year. This marks a departure from the past practice of tracking only truancy, or unexcused absences. Some states are also using chronic absenteeism as a yardstick for measuring school quality.
British parents can be fined and prosecuted for taking their children out of school for holiday travel without advance permission from their school’s head teacher.
The focus on absences is rooted in research showing that students who are absent often, for any reason—excused or unexcused—perform more poorly in school.
says she feels frustrated when parents take students out of school for family trips. If she sends homework, she finds it’s often returned incomplete or incorrect, because the absent student didn’t hear her explanation in class. Ms. Grundel, English department chair at Ponaganset High School, a public school in North Scituate, R.I., says some students suffer anxiety as they struggle to catch up.
Some parents switch to private schools, partly to gain flexibility, but meet resistance there, too. At Aspen Country Day School in Aspen, Colo., the school’s parent handbook “plays the guilt card—reminding parents what they’re missing,” including group projects, class discussions and labs, says
a school spokesperson.
Parents under age 37 plan to increase travel spending by 19% in the 12 months ending in January 2018, compared with no increase for all U.S. travelers, according to a survey of 2,900 people by MMGY Global, a Kansas City, Mo., travel-marketing agency.
Confining family travel to school breaks sharply increases the cost as popular peak-season destinations jack up their prices. Neal and
of Laguna Niguel, Calif., try to confine trips overseas with their children Conrad, 13, and Sophia, 11, to school breaks, but they often pay about 20% to 40% more, Mr. Kistler says.
Many parents try to book travel far ahead to take advantage of early discounts that are offered over a year in advance. But waiting for schools’ annual calendars can make that difficult, says
co-owner of an Amelia Island, Fla., travel agency.
Some schools issue calendars as far as three years in advance to ease planning, says
a Surprise, Ariz., superintendent and president of AASA, a national superintendents’ association.
Parents should check on schools’ absence policies before planning travel and notify officials and teachers as early as possible. Some officials are strict in penalizing absences, but others consider them case-by-case, says
president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Mr. Kelley, principal at a public high school in Smithfield, R.I., says he weighs requests based on the student’s attendance record, the purpose of the trip and the kinds of classes involved.
Dr. Pletnick suggests asking whether students could do activities while traveling that would meet specific learning goals a teacher has set.
When Kate Bostrom’s school had to cancel plans for students to view the Aug. 21 eclipse because of problems with viewing glasses, her mother Nancy took her 9-year-old daughter out of class and met her husband Eric near her Holly Springs, N.C. office so the family could watch the eclipse together. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kate says.
of Troy, Mich., give their children Garrick, 18, and Sky, 16, a say in planning their family trips to Europe, the Galapagos and elsewhere, as well as responsibility for planning homework with teachers at their private school. When Garrick asked to postpone a planned trip to Antarctica three years ago because he didn’t want to miss five days of eighth grade, his parents complied.
Garrick agreed to miss five days of school for the Antarctica trip last year as a junior, however. Managing the homework was a challenge, but it helped him gain time-management skills. And the trips are worth the effort, he says, sparking his interest in international relations. “You can’t really put a price on altering your world view,” Garrick says. “That’s what travel has done for me. It has changed how I think about things.”
Work & Family Mailbox
Q: I have a 16-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son. Both are doing well, but I’d like to do a little more reading. Can you recommend any books?—M.B.
A: For perspective on what teens should be learning at each stage of development, consider “Teach Your Children Well” by psychologist and educator Madeline Levine. She also explains how to instill the resilience and problem-solving skills teens need.
Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor in psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., puts today’s teens and young adults in a context of broader social and economic change. Take a look at “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?” and “Getting to 30” for advice on changing parent-child roles, financial planning, housing setups, early jobs and other topics.
Another prolific author, Mike Riera, a counselor and school headmaster, gives solid advice on communicating with adolescents in “Uncommon Sense for Parents With Teenagers” and “Staying Connected to Your Teenager.”
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