Q: My wife and I have been divorced for the past two years, and my job takes me out of town for long stretches of time. Whenever I have a few days off, I like to take the kids out of school for a long weekend. The last time I called to arrange a weekend trip, my ex-wife stated that she had received a letter from the school informing her that our children may have to go to summer school because they’ve missed an excessive number of school days this year.
Our kids both get good grades, so I don’t understand why they should be punished for spending time with me. Shouldn’t the school be more understanding since I’m trying to be a positive male role model in my children’s lives? Why is this a big deal?
A: I understand your confusion. Despite your divorce and hectic work schedule, you are doing your best to be an important member in your children’s lives. That’s laudable. While it may seem like school is trying to punish your children, the school is actually looking out for your children’s future academic success.
School absenteeism is a huge, nationwide problem. Some absences, like those due to illness, are unavoidable. Other absences, like appointments, traveling, or flat out skipping school, are preventable. Up to fifty percent of school absences fall into the preventable category, which is why schools are cracking down. For some schools, there’s a financial incentive to keep kids in the classroom. Certain states fund schools based on the number of students in attendance each day. If a child isn’t in school, the school doesn’t get paid. A school plagued by absenteeism may have to make cuts in areas like staffing or programs.
But the real problems are more than financial. Even though students make up work they missed in class, they often do so without the benefit of teacher instruction. Missing two days of school per month (for any reason) makes it more likely that a child will fall behind his or her peers academically. In most districts, missing eighteen days of school is the equivalent of missing ten percent of the school year. Think about it: if a child missed ten percent of the school year every year, that child could be at a disadvantage in college or later in life. In fact, students who miss the most school are up to ten times more likely to drop out before graduation.
I applaud your efforts to stay connected with your children, but schedule your visits after school ends. You can still spend weekends with your children, but begin the fun after the final bell rings Friday afternoon. If that doesn’t feel like enough time, talk to your children’s teacher about visiting your children’s classrooms as a parent volunteer on the days you normally would spend on an extended trip. That way you can still be with your children while simultaneously supporting their education.