Monday, March 2, 2015


Despite ten feet of snow outside our house, our family went up to Vermont this past weekend. (The trip was planned months before greater Boston's "snowmageddon.") Apparently, the skiing was amazing (yours truly wouldn't know, since I spent my time in a coffee shop working on my laptop). My teenage daughter wanted to stay an extra day. 

We said, "No."

We had our reasons. My husband and I both had to work Monday. We hadn't paid for a three-day weekend and it would mean getting in touch with the owner of the condo we'd rented and figuring all that out. Plus it would mean more money for lift tickets, ski rentals, restaurants. I was also feeling a little under the weather and wanted to get home.

At no point in our — albeit, brief — discussion did we worry about our daughter missing school.

Bad parents, right?

I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

Historically, we have pulled our daughter out of school many times for myriad reasons. It began, I think, in first grade when we let her miss school for a week so we could go to Disneyworld with another family (they pulled their two girls out as well). A year or two later, my sister and I took her on a cruise in late September (another week away). Then, there have always been the Friday absences in order to facilitate ski trips, sailing in Maine, weekends with family in New York and friends in Ohio.

It was certainly easier (and less controversial) when she was younger. Somehow missing a day of third grade isn't as daunting as missing two AP classes, Honors French, Physics and Pre-Calculus. 

I do get that. But, I think our high school overreacts a bit.

This year, my daughter had an opportunity to train with a world-renowned equestrian coach. He was in the area and she had been accepted in his cross-country clinic (she was, btw, the only teenager in the group — the rest were all adults). Her participation would mean missing two studies and French. I said "Absolutely!"

The school said, "Absolutely not."

Sure, they let her leave, with a note sent in advance and accompanied by me, her mother and legal guardian. But, the next day, her transcript (available online in real time) said "Unexcused Dismissal." I called the school.

"You need a doctor's note," the woman in the office told me.

"But, she didn't go to the doctor," I explained.

"You still need a note."

So, here's the conundrum. Had I simply called in that morning and said she was sick and staying home, it would have been fine. She would have missed five classes rather than one. But, it would have been fine.

Had I forged a note from "a doctor," that probably would have been fine too.

But no, I told the truth, and my daughter was being punished. How does that make sense? And what lesson are we teaching my daughter?

Fortunately, I was able to contact her guidance counselor who, in turn, was able to fix everything. The "Unexcused Dismissal" became, simply, a "Dismissal." The counselor agreed with me that it had been a great opportunity and that my daughter would make up any work she missed. But, we'll think twice before we go ahead and do something like that again.

Maybe that's the whole point.

Last month, there was a story in The New York Times about whether discretionary school absences should be permitted. Jessica Lahey, the author and both a parent and teacher, explained "I have seen the havoc these absences can wreak on students and their teachers. It takes a lot of time to pre-plan for student absences, to package work that will approximate missed lessons, chase children down for that work, and invest extra one-on-one time in makeup sessions." Yet she admits that she's taken her own kids out of school for events and trips.

So what to do?

Some states have rules about "chronic truancy." But, that leaves a lot to interpretation. Although we've allowed our daughter to miss school at least a day or two every year, she's virtually never sick. So her attendance record is still quite good, better than most. Her grades are also good. This should all count for something, right?

Then again, am I in fact arguing that kids who tend to get sick and don't have great grades should be penalized where family vacations are concerned?

That isn't fair either.

I guess the school has to do what it feels is right for all its students, while I have to do what I feel is right for just my one. We aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this issue because our missions and responsibilities are different. That's all right. We don't see eye-to-eye on other things either.

Despite the great ski conditions in Vermont, my daughter was at school on time, homework done, this morning. (She wasn't exactly thrilled about it. But, she was there.)

For the next few weeks, I'll have to make sure she stays healthy and her attendance record is perfect. 

Because we have a long weekend coming up the end of April.

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