Parents planning their next family vacation may want to think twice about skipping out on school for those restorative days of rest and relaxation. 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 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. 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.
School systems discourage the practice of missing school days for the purpose of vacations, and typically categorize them as “unexcused absences.” 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 cooperative to provide missed homework assignments or allow for make-up quizzes and tests. And students who play sports and miss games and practices due to vacations 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 the Framingham 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.
“The message that we send to children is whether or not [school attendance] is of value,” says Scott, a former school superintendent for the Concord-Carlisle school system. 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 in Ipswich.