Taking Extra Travel Days?

Junior Ivy League

December 1, 2005

Victoria Goldman


          Whether paying $30,000 a year for private school or nary a penny for public, rich, poor and everywhere in between, missing a few days to make the most of Thanksgiving in Mexico, or ending up dallying in the Dominican Republic, students end up paying a high price for a little extra down time.  

Excuses run the gamut for pulling kids out of school, (some true others obtuse), but more often than not, parents sheepishly admit that motives mainly include: locking in lower airfares, skipping chairlift lines, warming up golf or tennis swings, or just to enjoy an extra day somewhere exotic.

          There are, however, a very few good reasons to miss school for a trip. Like grandma’s 70th birthday excursion to India complete with a trek through the Himalayas, culminating in a party for the nearest and dearest 500 in London. But, short of something this monumental, teachers and the majority of parents agree, regardless of the grade level, if there’s school, students should be in their seats.

          The school year is only 160 days in most private schools and usually not more than 190 at most public schools, so with missed school days for sickness and other emergencies, teachers insist it’s absolutely vital that students be present in order to do well and be a reliable and valued members of the school’s community.

          Invariably, there are always some parents who think they can get around the system.  A public school teacher, private school alumna, and private tutor, says that the main reasons students miss school typically falls into two categories:  “The first are families who know that education is important, but think they are above it and they don’t have to play by the rules.”  In her role as a private tutor, she has been hired to bolster jet-lagged students in the ninth hour, the day or night before school resumes. 

“The second reason her students miss school is more prevalent in lower income families.  It’s where education clearly comes second to family concerns and missed school is related to poverty, or, sometimes just because it’s raining,” she sadly reveals. “Our attendance goes down when the weather is bad.”

          Moreover, even if a vacationing student manages to get all of his homework done, or spends time with a tutor to get ahead, teachers agree that missing school for vacation is a negative influence that parents impose on their children.  “It runs contrary to my career mission,” says one science teacher who has taught in both public and private schools over the past nine years.  “Basically, I’m working hard trying to teach their kids and the parents are sabotaging my efforts, and that makes me disappointed.” He tries not to take it out on his students, as he genuinely feels it’s not the student’s fault, “It’s a complete failure of parenting,” he blames indulgent parents.

The science teacher admits that when a student misses school for reasons other than those that are dire, he always feels disappointed in the parents and tries his best not to take it out on the students.  “Because kids don’t have much choice, and they know it’s wrong to leave school.”

“In a functional sense, I’m in a bind,” explains the science teacher. “I can’t penalize or fail a student for a decision their parents make.  But at the same time, if the student isn’t there, in class, to get the work they might not pass a test or something else could be held against the student.”  “Regardless,” he says, “missing work is always a problem,” especially when the student has academic or other disabilities, which is often the case.

“Frankly,” the science teacher finds, “Unfortunately, it’s usually a pattern, usually kids who need the work the most who miss the most days, students who also have some other issues and they know it’s wrong to leave school too.”

Even so, there constantly exists a small group of parents who feel that missing school, “Once in a while is okay,” says a parent who has only pulled his children out of school once in a blue moon.  “It’s a function of the school work at that time.”” Parents like these plea with teachers to consider the holiday, and assure them that they will respect proximity to tests, quizzes, term papers, midterm or final exams and SATs and get all the missed work and homework done when checking their children out.

          But, the majority of parents agree with teachers, that you’re handicapping your child when they miss school and it shows a lack of parent’s priorities.

In the end, the public school teacher with the private school pedigree and clientele surmises, “It shows a lack of respect for the school, the teachers and what’s happening at that moment in school.  It sends a message that they are more important than school.”