Among my friends and family, I’m known for a few things: credit cards, miles and points travel and pulling my kids out of school for vacation. I’ve pulled my kids out of school 3 to 6 days every year for the past 9 years for family travel.
Some people have asked me why we don’t just vacation only during regular school breaks. For my family, the answer is cost and crowds. Even when paying with miles and points, flights and hotels cost fewer points during the off-season with some programs. Family travel is a huge priority for me, so if I can do it more often for less cost and with lower crowds, I’m going to plan our trips for those times. And most of the time, those ideal times are when school is in session.
Pulling kids out of school for vacation is a controversial topic among parents. Some parents are just not comfortable allowing their kids to miss school, and that’s ok. But if you are considering letting your kids play hooky for family travel, here is my advice.
Know the Rules in your State and School District
Before you buy those plane tickets, research the rules in your state and your school district for pulling kids out of school for vacation. And don’t just ask fellow moms on social media for the rules, as there is a lot of misinformation out there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard moms say, “That’s not allowed in Texas and you can go to jail for truancy.” That’s not true!
While laws vary by state, I can tell you a little about the laws in Texas. In 2015, Texas decriminalized truancy. However, if a student has more than three unexcused absences in a four-week period, the school district is supposed to counsel the family for the reasons of the absences. In practice, most school districts send out a sternly worded letter reminding parents of attendance rules. I receive this letter every school year after my kids miss a few days for a family vacation. Further action ensues if a student racks up 10 unexcused absences, which may include fines and truancy court. But keep in mind, sickness is an excused absence and does not count toward this total.
Our school district has a section on family vacations on its website. It clearly indicates that absences for family trips are considered unexcused. But, it also says that families are “allowed” up to five absences a year for family vacations, and students are allowed to make up the work. There is even a form parents can fill out to alert the school of travel dates that impact school attendance.
For my family, I turn in the official form every year. We take the vacation. A few weeks later, I receive the dreaded sternly worded letter in the mail. Even though I’ve requested permission to miss the days, the school is required to send the scary letter. And then what happens? Nothing! My kids make up their missed work, and life goes on.
Pick “Good” Dates to Miss School
Within the school year, there are better and worse times to miss school. I don’t recommend missing school at the very beginning of the school year, as kids need time to get adjusted to a new teacher and routine. I also don’t recommend missing dates near the end of a grading period and dates before and during big tests.
Look at weeks that are already 4-day weeks due to a minor holiday or teacher work days. For example, my kids have a 4-day weekend in October and in April. If we went on vacation for a full week, they would only miss four days of school instead of five.
On our last trip, our kids missed the first four days of a new grading period. This gave them many weeks to make up that work without affecting report cards. I know several families who like to get a jump start on summer and pull their kids out the last week of the school year. In the lower grades, very little learning goes on that last week of school. So if your kids don’t mind missing the end-of-year party and the game days, that’s another good option.
Communicate with Teachers
When pulling kids out of school for vacation, communicate with your teachers before and after the trip. Don’t assume that the school administration communicated the details of your vacation form with your children’s teachers.
In my experience, teachers are happy to give make-up work before a trip with enough notice. Ask teachers if your kids need to come in early or stay later for make-up work, or if they can bring work home. When you think they have made up all the work, double-check to make sure you are on the same page with the teachers.
Set Expectations and Know Your Kids’ Limits
When pulling kids out of school for family vacation, set your expectations with your kids about make-up work. If you plan to have them do schoolwork while on the vacation, tell them in advance. Most of our trips during the school year have been cruises, and I don’t make my kids do schoolwork on a cruise. However, the flights to and from are fair game. I also tell my kids to plan on working hard on make-up work for one to two weeks after we return, which means fewer playdates during that time.
As your kids age, you will get a feel for their school workloads and limits for missing school. During our most recent trip, our oldest son in 8th grade had a much harder time making up work. We understand that it will just get harder for him in high school, so we don’t plan to pull him out of school for future trips during the school year. Going forward, we will now plan our big family trips over school breaks. However, my younger two kids still have an easier time with make-up work at lower grade levels, so we may do a few partial-family trips for them until things get more difficult.
Don’t Abuse the Privilege
Follow your district’s guidelines when missing school, and show courtesy and respect to teachers and school staff. Teachers are very busy, and pulling together make-up work is just another added task for them. Seek out make-up work instead of expecting teachers to spoon-feed it to your kids. Make sure your kids are on-time for every other day and aren’t raking up tardies in addition to vacation days.
Do you pull your kids out of school for family trips? What advice do you have to make things go smoothly when missing school?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.