Is A Family Vacation An Excused Absence From School?

Many families in the United States and Canada choose to take a family vacation at some point during the school year.  This leaves many parents to ask the question, “is my family vacation considered an excused absence from school for my child?” 

While rules and regulations regarding absences for children at school differ depending on your school district, a family vacation is not typically considered an excused absence for students in most places. However, depending on the situation, there may be some exceptions. 

Let’s get right into it to find out more about what type of absence a family vacation entails and its consequences. We’ll also give you some valuable information about what types of outings count as excused or unexcused and what each type of absence means for you and your child. 

Excused and Unexcused Absences From School

Family vacations are not considered an excused absence in most public schools. It is also technically against the Education Act to pull your children out of school for a holiday, in Canada. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t still go on family vacations. Your child will rack up a different kind of absence instead- an unexcused absence. But what’s the difference?

  • Excused Absence: These types of absences will be marked as  “excused” for students. This means the absence will not affect their attendance grade in classes, and in some cases, will not affect their overall attendance score used to give perfect attendance awards. Written notes are often a requirement for this kind of absence.  
  • Unexcused Absence: These types of absences will be marked as “unexcused” for students. This does affect their attendance in classes and can affect their overall attendance scores or even grade scores in some cases. If a student has an excused absence, but doesn’t provide a written note when required, it will usually be considered unexcused as well. 

Therefore, excused absences and unexcused absences are given depending on the circumstance. Depending on the type of absence you receive, it can have a different effect on your grades and attendance score. Let’s take a look at why exactly family vacations are considered unexcused absences rather than excused absences. 

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Why Family Vacations Are Considered Unexcused Absences

Educators understand that families go on vacation during the year, so it isn’t exactly punishable. Your child won’t necessarily receive a suspension or expulsion- it’s just an unexcused absence. Although some districts may fine the parents if their child has too many. But why did they choose to make it unexcused?

When children are gone from school for long periods, they have to catch up on missed work, creating a strain for educators trying to catch them back up to speed. Additionally, if teachers have to prepare extra lessons in advance for students, it increases their workload. This can take away from the attention that other students need  who are present, as well as disrupt in-class experiences and group projects. 

Not only that, but an even bigger reason is that student attendance can be a factor in the amount of money some public schools get. This makes it essential for schools to promote proper student attendance. 

Sometimes, schools will allow family vacations to be considered excused absences if the family notifies the teachers or administrators of the vacation details with plenty of time to spare.

If the dates the student will be absent aren’t unreasonable and the teachers have enough time to prepare, the school may permit for it to be an excused absence. 

Check with your school to see what their policy is on excusing family vacation absences. At the end of the day, it’s up to parents to decide whether they think it’s worth it for their child to gather a few unexcused absences to be able to go on vacation. So weigh your options carefully. 

What is an Excused Absence from School?

Excused absences from school are usually given to students who have other appointments or arrangements that are necessary or unavoidable. Documentation is often requested to prove that the student was truthful in their reason for missing school.

Everyday activities schools give excused absences for include: 

  • Doctor’s appointments (a note is often required)
  • College campus tours (a note is often required) 
  • Severe illness (a note is often required) 
  • Family emergencies
  • Religious observances
  • Absences related to a students’ dependency or foster status 
  • Absences related to a suspension 

As you can see, excused absences from school are usually absences that the student and guardians had no control over preventing. A family vacation doesn’t exactly fit in with the theme mentioned above, so let’s take a look at what kinds of activities are considered unexcused absences. 

What is an Unexcused Absence From School?

Unexcused absences from school are usually considered “unnecessary” by school officials, i.e., shouldn’t have kept a student from school or could have taken place at a different time. Many unexcused absences are simply due to an accident on the part of the student or parents. 

Thankfully, many educators provide an allotted number of unexcused absences a student can have before affecting their grade or being flagged as truant. Often, they also understand last-minute or accidental circumstances. 

The number of unexcused absences a student can get before it starts to affect their scores differs by school. But it’s also important to know that even if your child has unexcused absences available, it will still likely affect their ability to get a perfect attendance award, if that is an important consideration for your family. 

Common reasons for unexcused absences from school often include: 

  • Sleeping late or missing school transportation 
  • Non-medical personal appointments (hair cuts, massages, etc.) 
  • Unapproved vacations 
  • Leaving school early without notifying school officials 
  • Non-serious illness without a doctors’ note (colds, stomachache, etc.) 
  • Playing hooky for a day

These aren’t unavoidable reasons for missing school, but everyone makes mistakes sometimes. 

However, it’s essential to know that unexcused absences are the type of absence counted when determining truancy. Be sure to check with your school board to determine how many your child can have before any legal trouble arises. 

In most places in Canada and the US your child is required to be in some type of school program between the ages of 6 and 17. Whether it be a public or private school, or a homeschooling program. If they miss or skip out on too many school days they will be truant, and consequences can vary. For example in:

  • Ontario, Canada – parents can be charged if their child is truant, and 12-15 year olds can be fined up to $1,000 and/or one year of probation charge.
  • Maine, USA – parents can be summoned to court and charged with a civil violation, then may be ordered to pay a fine, take a parenting class, work with school on plan for child etc.

Obviously these would be extreme cases, and likely not a result of a one time vacation. Most school boards use truancy laws as a last resort. It is still a good idea to check in with your school, teacher and school board to make sure there are no issues, or unintended consequences.

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Should I Use My Child’s Allotted Unexcused Absences for Family Vacation?

Family Vacation. Young girl with big smile jumping out of water in pool. Dad and mom behind.
Should you take a Family Vacation during the school year?
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Now that we have all the information on why family vacations are unexcused absences, you may be wondering if you should use your child’s’ allotted unexcused absences for a family vacation. 

While it’s up to the parent to choose whether or not they’d like to take a family vacation during the school year, it’s important to keep close track of how many unexcused absences your child has gathered to avoid any truancy troubles. Even if your child is 16 years of age- you are still responsible for their attendance. 

If your child has a high number of unexcused absences left, they won’t be missing a lot of school days. You may indeed find it to be worth it to use your child’s absences for family vacation purposes. 

However, if your student doesn’t have any unexcused absences left, they will suffer penalties for the days they miss on vacation. These penalties can affect their grades in classes, so it’s imperative to choose wisely. 

Other considerations for an unexcused absence from school for a family vacation

There are a couple of other things that are good to consider before pulling your kids out of school for a family trip:

  • How well your child is doing in school? Will these extra days make it harder for them to keep up?
  • Is their teacher supportive? Is their teacher willing and able to provide the extra support to help them catch up without being too disruptive to the rest of the class?
  • What grade is your child in? It is often easier for someone in elementary school to catch up than, say a high schooler.
  • Is your child comfortable missing school?
  • What are your family values around travel? Does your family value the learning that takes place during travel? Are you ok pulling your kids out of school for a Jamaican getaway for a little R’nR or a trip to northern Canada to see the northern lights?

The educational aspect of travel can outweigh the inconvenience, and many families find holidays enriching in wonderful ways. Research suggests that educational travel can have positive impacts on children including better grades, and an increased likelihood of graduating and earning higher incomes as an adult.

You should consult your child for their opinion as well; after all, it is their grade and experience too!

How To Take Your Child Out Of School For Vacation

Young girl standing at the edge of a tropical ocean, on family vacation.

Great! You’ve looked into it, and decided that going on vacation during the school year is a good idea, and your child won’t rack up too many unexcused absences. Make sure you add school stuff to your pre-travel checklist. You may now be wondering how to take your child out of school for vacation. Here are some tips:

Choose travel dates carefully

It is a good idea to be strategic, and choose your travel dates carefully. The beginning of a school term, is usually better than end of term, especially for older children who have exams. Also look into travelling over a long weekend, or adding on a few extra days onto professional development days, so your kids will miss out on less school.

A trip to a local National Park like Bryce Canyon, UT can also potentially cut down on travel time.

Communicate with teachers and the school

Discuss your travel plans with your child’s teacher and school, at least a month ahead of time, if possible.

  • Communicate Travel Plans: Communicate when and how long you will be away for.
  • Homework: Ask if there will be any work your kids will need to catch up on, or take with them.
  • Eductional Activities: If you have any educational activities planned while you are away, let your teacher know that too. Like perhaps visiting Pearl Harbour, on a family vacation to Hawaii.
  • Extra Credit Assignments: Perhaps there will be an opportunity for an extra credit assignment, to make up for lost in-class participation. Most teachers will work with students to assign a project based on their trip; what they learned or experienced.

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Fill out necessary paperwork – Pre-Excuse Absences

Many school districts have processes in place for pre-excused absences. Some have forms to fill out, or will accept a written letter from you, the parents. Give a quick call to the front desk of your school, if you aren’t sure what to do, or need more info.

Catch up on school work & grab homework before you leave

It is also a good idea to make sure your kids have caught up on their work before they leave, so they won’t fall too far behind. Remind their teacher a week before you leave, to give them enough time to prepare. Make sure they also pick up any assignments, or homework by their last day in class.

If your children have homework, make sure to plan time on the holiday to actually complete it. Nothing relaxing about trying to cram in a week or two worth of homework at the last minute, once you return home tired from travelling.

Grab Your Sample Excuse Letter of absence from School For Family Vacation HERE!

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Family vacations are often considered unexcused absences, but different schools have different policies about excusing family vacation absences if they’re notified ahead of time. If not, it’s up to you as a parent to decide whether it’s worth it for your child to miss a few days of class for the vacation. Keep a close eye on the number of absences your child already has to make sure it’s even possible. Good luck! 

Related family travel planning tips and destination articles:

Is A Family Vacation An Excused Absence from School?

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