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?
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Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.
Henry Krinkle says
Nancy, Thank you for the write up. We’re a family that loves to travel to Europe 2x a year and more. Having a child in the school system really makes this hard on us. # 1 the prices around school holidays are 2X and 3X in many cases. The school policy for Texas kind of suck. In my view, 2 weeks in Europe seeing and experiencing history first hand are way more educational than anything that happens here in Frisco ISD. We’re going to take the trip and expect the nasty letter. Kind regards, Henry
@Henry Enjoy your trip!!
Derek McDoogle says
My wife and I would like to take our kids on vacation so that we can enjoy time together. I like how you said that when pulling kids out of school for a family vacation, set your expectations with your kids about make-up work. I will ask my wife if she would like to take them to Disneyland so that we can all have lots of fun.
Thanks for the Info. I was googling other information, but this came in handy as well. I live in Dallas, TX as well and my daughter is in Charter School – Harmony. I wish I knew this a few yrs ago when I relocated here from KY. Our spring breaks are about 2wks apart and my Sister and I have always vacationed our kids together during that time. We’ve been here 4 yrs now and haven’t shared a SpringBreak since. I never even thought to look anything like this up. I can’t wait to share the news with her.
We can start planning for this yrs spring break!
@HustleQueen I hope you get to vacation together next spring break!
My parents were teachers so they were never able to pull me out, but they had no problem with parents who did this IF it was communicated clearly ahead of time, it was not done during certain critical times, it wasn’t excessive, and if parents realized there was some things that simply could not be “made up.”
My father would have students come up to him at the end of the day and say that they would be gone for the next week and could he give them alternative assignments right now. No, he couldn’t.
At the same time, he had parents who would call or write to him as soon as they knew when they were leaving and ask for alternatives which my father tried to provide(he was a science teacher so he always asked if there would be a visit to a science museum and would ask for work surrounding that if possible).
The other thing to realize is that teachers usually have an entire year planned out before the year even begins so yes, some things can be accommodated(most things), but they can’t move the science fair because you want them to(this was actually a request I heard). That means that your project has to be completed before you leave or you will miss the final grading portion(the project usually had several components). I had a teacher in a performing arts class who made clear at the beginning of the year that there were 3 performances that we had to perform in to get an A and when they would be. Someone complained because they wanted to go skiing on one of those days and the teacher said that was fine, but the performances were an important part of the class and there was no way you could get an A without attending, there was no make-up for a performance involving 50 students.
My mother ran school plays and had a parent demand the dates be changed because his daughter(who had a minor roll) was not going to be there because they were going to Disney. This was well into rehearsals, and, even if it wasn’t, the dates were set at the beginning of the year based on many factors. My mother refused, especially because at that point many other parents had planned schedules around the play dates.
My point there is to be aware that some things will just not happen if your child is not in school and everyone needs to be ok with that.
Teachers also work really hard, so don’t expect large reams of make-up work tailored directly for you, they just don’t have time. Also understand if there are some things they can’t(or won’t) allow extensions for. Watching my parents(and two best friends who teach), I can say this isn’t because they want to punish, but because they are trying to remain fair while allowing your children to learn.
I’ve pulled my son out school for a whole month, a couple times. This year were going for 7 weeks. Apparently this is illegal in New Zealand where we live, but no one has complained. I informed teacher and office of my plan and did it. I didn’t ask for permission. I guess if the school wanted to report me they could and I’d get fined.
Part of the problem is that I don’t want to visit MN in the winter, when it’s NZ summer. So, the only option is to miss NZ winter.
At first I was very uncomfortable doing this but I’ve slowly adjusted.
I did once ask my son’s teacher about timing and she said she preferred he miss the end of a term, as opposed to the beginning, when they are establishing new routines and introducing new students.
My advice is to go Montessori like we did. No homework. No tests. No pressure to keep up with the group.
Keeping a travel journal or bringing a good book is a nice way to keep reading and writing skills in tact. Converting money is good for math skills. Museums good for history and science. 🙂
@Talchinsky Wow, 7 weeks! You’re my hero! I’m glad your school is accommodating.
There is another family in my school who is Spanish. They have pulled their kids out for two months every other year to visit Spain. I once asked the mom if the school has complained or cared and she said no, and then she said if they do she doesn’t care because she’s going to Spain. Period. It wasn’t up for discussion.
There’s also a German family who has done the same thing.
I don’t know, but I sometimes suspect they are more forgiving with us international families whose children need to see families back home.
Anyway, I say to push the boundaries! Help be part of changing the unhealthy American workaholic culture! (Oops, was that too political? Sorry!)
My kids are never going to get that perfect attendance award. We’ve always pulled them out a few days each school year to travel and no regrets here. I’m thankful that our school is really easy to work with. We are allowed five unexcused absences per each 90-day period. The nice thing is if I get the absence preapproved, it’s excused. The kids usually do their makeup work in class. I’m sure that’ll change as they get further along in school. If they have missed a lot of days for illness, I try not to pull them out for vacation so much. And after spring break, I don’t schedule anything because they gear up for testing. I will also try and let the teacher know what kinds of educational things we are doing, maybe send a pic of the kids at the Natural History Museum or that sort of thing.
@Jennifer Your school district sounds really accommodating! That’s great.
That’s a really great point about trying not miss school after spring break. I hadn’t thought about that. My 3rd grader is taking SOL for the first time this year and you are right, May would be a terrible month for her to miss school. We missed 6 days of school this past winter break. My daughter had a packet of math worksheets she had to do, but my 1st grader had no make-up work. Hopefully I will remain comfortable pulling them out of school in the elementary school years as long as we are diligent about making up work.
I think you are totally right about picking “good” dates to miss school. Extending our winter break by a couple of days is fine by me, but I wouldn’t pick a random week to be off without any school holidays to help offset the missed days.
@Joyce I’m glad your kids didn’t have too much makeup work. I stretched my oldest to pull out through middle school, but that’s where it ends.
Well this is timely.
I’ve commented before how my wife’s spring break (she teaches 3rd grade, CANNOT miss days) doesn’t align with our kids’ spring break this year and next. We would LOVE to get one more grand Disney World vacation in before our kids out grow the prime age window (our oldest will be 10 next year). So that leaves us summer (no friggin way) or Christmas (ditto). Could do a short trip over Thanksgiving but that’s too short. Or… take the kids out of school during my wife’s spring break. Sure, higher crowds and prices, but there’s ways to hack both of those issues.
Funny thing is, the one who is hesitant about pulling them out is me, not my wife! The thought of make up work sounds awful, and I’m not having them do school work on vacation… kind of defeats the purpose of vacation. I am seriously considering it… may have to find other parents with 4th graders (I’m not so concerned about our soon to be 1st graders) in our district that pulled their kids out and pick their brains.
@projectx That’s a good idea to find other parents in your district who have pulled out for trips. In my experience, make-up work in elementary is a breeze. For our recent trip in January, my elementary kids didn’t even have to take make-up work home, they did it all in school (although we did study for a spelling test on the plane). I will say that summers at Disney World aren’t as bad as they used to be now that there is Fast Pass +. Over the past 6 years I’ve gone twice in June and twice in July. I expected the worst in terms of heat and crowds, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’d pick summer over Christmas/New Year’s weeks.
It’s not the summer crowds that concern me, it’s the heat & humidity. Cold doesn’t bother me. Heat doesn’t bother me. Sticky heat? I get enough of it here in CVG summers and hate it. But you’re in Texas so probably handle it better than us!
The thing that has me reconsidering is that our 3rd grader had a nasty flu and pink eye recently and missed a full week… and nothing happened. I do know from our neighbors though who pulled their kids out for a trip, that once they hit 5th grade the amount of make up work isn’t worth it. They said they wouldn’t do it again.
@projectx I assumed you lived in Texas because of the tx at the end of your name. 🙂 You’re right, we probably aren’t as affected by the heat in Florida.
Sorry not from TX. Reads as “project – x”. I’m too delicate to withstand Texas summer heat! 😉
Nick @ PFD says
I wasn’t homeschooled myself, but we do homeschool our kids (which, by the way, is great if you like to travel whenever you want). But if my experience in schools growing up is representative: kids will probably learn more on a one-week vacation than they will in any given week of school.
@Nick I have been seriously tempted to homeschool in the past in order to have a way more flexible travel schedule. I even considered homeschooling for one semester so that my kids could go on a longer Panama Canal cruise. In the end, we decided to stick with public school, but if my husband’s schedule was more flexible we may have done it.
I have strong feelings about this after finishing my last 8 years of elementary and high school being homeschooled. In short: the school can go pound sand. Education is extremely important, but it’s not rocket science to figure out how to make this happen without having your child sit at a desk a full 180 days of the year.
For my eight-year-old son’s part, he received a packet of work from the private school, which I helped him through during our trip to China in November. He turned it in. No lost time. No lost learning.
@Ian I agree that kids can learn more during a trip than sitting at a desk. One of the arguments people have said to me against pulling out kids for trips is that it sends the message to our kids that education isn’t important. I disagree! Travel is part of education.