"...my son from May 19 - 25. We need to take a vacation that week because this is the only time his sister can get off."
Yes, I received that particular e-mail from the mother of one of my students this week. (I don’t know whether to giggle or feel sorry for the sister who can only get off once a year. Ahem.) The mother also went on to point out that her son will have completed all of his AP tests by that point...and implied that would mean he wouldn’t miss anything important by being gone. Yeah, lady, there will still be six weeks left in the school year, but we’re just going to sit around and twiddle our thumbs because The Test is over. What else could we possibly have to learn?
I have been fortunate this year to not have to deal with very many family vacations. I really struggle with whether or not these sorts of absences should be excused. I’m not talking about "long weekends." I’m not talking about kids who have experienced a death in the family and need to be out. I’m talking about kids that are gone anywhere from 1 - 5 weeks during the school year, purely for a holiday. (I have encountered many families in my tenure here who think nothing of taking their kids to the Philippines for a month or more during school time.)
Are there things a kid could learn through their travels—experiences that they could never have within the classroom? Absolutely. Are they valuable? Again, I couldn’t agree more. Are there sometimes reasons why families can only have a holiday during school time? Yes. And since I live in an area heavily populated with Navy families, I know that they sometimes have to take advantage of opportunities when their ship comes in (literally).
But I still feel like it’s a slap in the face when I’m told the kid will be out for a month to vacation elsewhere—and I’m expected to supply the student with assignments (including alternatives for labs...and including spending a great deal of my personal time either pulling together the work or marking it, for those kids that bother to complete it). Shouldn’t we (parents and teachers) be reinforcing with students that school is important? That attendance is important?
For those schools and districts with attendance policies (such as "miss more than 10 days and you lose credit for the course), I doubt they have to confront this issue very much. I must admit I’m a little jealous of that.