Letting Kids Miss School For Family Vacations

PHOTO: Many families take their kids out of school to go on a family vacation.

So, what's the lesser evil—pulling your kids out of school for vacation, or paying a premium to travel during scheduled breaks? Every parent I know has struggled with this at some point. Clearly, though, the data shows that many of us are taking our kids out of school. Last week, a TripAdvisor.com poll conducted exclusively for ABCNews.com showed 78 percent of 1,709 respondents with kids have let them miss school for a family vacation.

Family togetherness… getting a glimpse of different cultures… seeing historical sites in person… what's not to like about that? My daughter already has a better understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg at age 8 than I did in high school. Climbing around on Little Round Top is a heck of a lot more compelling than reading a history textbook's dry account of what happened there.

But the main attraction for many parents is simple—it's cheaper to travel during the academic year than during scheduled breaks, especially if you're flying. If you ever want to know when a particular major city's public schools are on spring break, look no further than airfare prices. Nonstop round-trip flights on JetBlue from Boston to Nassau are $1,447 per person (including taxes and fees) during the Boston public school system's April vacation week. The same flights the week before are only $817. For a family of four, that's a savings of $2,520 on the flights alone. Here are two more examples:

Date Philadelphia-Orlando (round-trip, incl. taxes and fees) San Diego-Honolulu (round-trip, incl. taxes and fees)
Week before spring break (Sat. 3/24-Sun. 4/1) $362 $875
Week of spring break (Sat. 3/31-Sun. 4/8) $746 $1,314
Savings for a family of four if they travel the week before break $1,536 $1,756

Schools, however, tend not to look kindly on families who choose to vacation during the school year. The official line from most school districts is that parents who vacation at their convenience put their kids at an academic disadvantage. They'll miss discussions that can't be made up outside the classroom and fall significantly behind.

However, while this is just one example, my daughter is only 8. The last time we vacationed during the school year, her teacher sent home a week's worth of photocopied worksheets, which she completed in about 45 minutes. She didn't have any trouble getting back in the groove when we returned, and her grades never slipped. However, if she were in high school studying Mandarin and A.P. Physics with college looming, or if she were a student with special needs or educational challenges, things would be totally different. I'd be useless as a tutor (having studied French and gleefully fulfilled my college science requirement by taking Physics for Poets), and her GPA (and, ergo, chances of getting into a good college) could definitely suffer. I foresee curtailing our travel drastically over the coming years.

Ultimately, of course, it's the parents' decision. And, clearly, it's a complicated one. If you're going to take the kids out of school to travel, here are six tips for making it easier:

- Schedule your trip around standardized tests and exam weeks. Many school districts won't approve excused absences during these times, anyway.

- Don't lie. Your approach should be "How can I make this work?" not "How can I pull one over on the principal?" Besides, if you say your kids need to miss a week of school for Great-Aunt Edna's funeral and word gets out you actually went to Disney World, you're going to lose the respect of everyone at your kids' school.

- Look for ways to minimize the number of school days your kids have to miss. If there's a staff in-service day on a Tuesday, you could travel from late Friday afternoon to Tuesday night. That means just one excused absence day. Also, airfare might be lower if you leave the Friday before a scheduled vacation week rather than Saturday morning. Better to miss that one day than a full week of classes in your quest for cheaper flights.

- Don't tell the school the purpose of your trip is educational if it's not—it's a slap in the face to the teachers. Taking the kids to Venice and spending your days viewing Renaissance frescoes is one thing but taking the kids to the Venetian and letting them hang out at the pool all day because you have to be in Vegas for a conference is quite another.

- If you want to save money and still travel during school vacation weeks, choose a non-stereotypical family spring break destination. Hotels in Florida might jack up their prices because they expect an influx of families, but you might get a great deal on a hotel in Chicago.

- Finally, talk to your kids. They may not want to miss school and deal with making up work (which can be significant, especially in AP or honors classes), or they may not want to miss out on sports and extracurricular activities. And I don't know about you, but in my opinion, saving money by traveling during the school year isn't worth it if your kid's not happy to be on vacation in the first place.

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