When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, it caused tremendous damage and disruption. Among the disruption, according to a recent article in the New York Times, is the loss of some scheduled February vacation days in the public school calendar. The schools are making allowances for teachers who already have tickets and accommodations purchased for the break, but according to the article, parents who have scheduled family vacations are pretty much out of luck. This made me wonder, would you give up your family vacation plans for your kids’ school?
Attendance policies stricter than ever
I was surprised at how strict the attendance policies had become when my kids started public school. Depending on the district, kids may have as little as five or six absences allowed before parents start getting in serious trouble. In my kids’ district, the magic number was 10. If a child had more than 10 unexcused absences in a semester, they would fail. And absences were only excused with a doctor’s note or in case of a death in the family.
The reason for stricter attendance policies is clear. In the past, schools received funding based on the number of students enrolled over a period of time, whether they attended class or not. But over the past decade or so, states have moved to a system that pays schools based on their Average Daily Attendance, or the number of students in their seats each day. Fewer kids means less money. So schools are very motivated to keep kids in school, even if they might be learning more outside the classroom.
Does your vacation have an educational element?
I might not advocate going on vacation instead of going to school if I thought kids would definitely learn in school, and definitely not learn on vacation. But I know just the opposite to be true. Kids can learn so much on vacation, especially if parents take time to teach them about the region they are visiting, the history and culture represented and more. Some of the most educational experiences my kids have had were during our travels.
In the New York Times article, one school principal admitted that the students present in school during the days previously assigned to the February break would not likely be getting the best educational experiences in the classroom. Many would be taking extra recess periods, watching videos or doing busy work under the monitoring of substitute teachers.
Decide for your own family
I strongly advocate hands on learning experiences, and love to incorporate education into our vacation plans. If my kids were still in public school, and we had an opportunity to vacation together during the school year, I would take it without hesitation. But you have to make the decision for your own family.
Consider whether your kids are working at or above grade level, and where they would be best stimulated creatively and academically. Also consider whether they have already missed a lot of school, and if you can take them out for a few days without any administrative issues.
Even if your kids are pushing the limit for absences, talk with the principal if you think a family vacation would benefit your kids. Exceptions can almost always be made with a little creative negotiation. And if the school won’t budge, stop and ask yourself if they are educating your kids the best possible way the rest of the year. You might end up deciding you’d rather teach your kids in your own way, on your own schedule, for more than just the length of a family vacation.
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How Homeschooling Saves Taxpayers Money