As expats, many of us from Australia and further away from the US, it can be difficult to find enough time to take your child out of school to travel home. Skipping school to travel home from the US can be a little tricky because of rules and laws that govern the amount of days your child can be away from school. There are certain approved ‘excuses’ for your child to not attend school, and if they do not meet the guidelines, your child could be placed in the truant category. It might sound like a fancy word used as a scare tactic, but in some states, having your child marked as a truant can result in fines, and in extreme cases, jail time for the parents.

SKIPPING SCHOOL TO TRAVEL HOME

If state education departments and school districts take skipping school for a vacation so seriously, you probably should too. Obviously the penalties mentioned above are at the extreme end of the spectrum. It is perfectly permissible for students of many school districts to be excused for a trip, especially if that travel involves expats returning to their home countries for an extended visit.

There are things you should know and think about before you start planning your trip though. Keep in mind that this post focuses specifically on public schools for the most part. Private, charter, and community schools may have different rules than those detailed here.

Know your school district’s truancy policy

On top of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that makes up the United States, there are even more school districts that break up each state into sections. We contacted each state’s Education Department and asked them questions about expats taking children out of school for travel, and many of them referred us to each individual school district. We’ve done our best to collect as much information from states and school districts that are popular with expats, which you can find at the end of this post. You have no issues if your child’s absences are accompanied by a note excusing them, using one of the approved excuses, then you’re fine.  It’s only when there is no note, or the noted excuse isn’t ‘approved’ that there may be issues.

Children in US school

Not being up to date with your school district’s truancy policy could result in a court summons.

But as an example, the California Department of Education defines truancy as “…a student missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year must be classified as a truant and reported to the proper school authority”. Parents are notified of their child’s truancy status, and a meeting with the school might result if the student is deemed a ‘habitual’ truant. Each Californian school can exercise its own discretion (as long as it abides by the law), in disciplining truants who are reported on a first to fourth-time offence. The disciplining progresses as the truancy does, students can be made to attend make up classes on weekends, be assigned to an after-school study program, referred to a truancy mediation program, be sent to juvenile court, where they could be made a ward of the court. If made a ward of the court, pupils might be asked to do community service and report to a probation officer, pay a fine (less than $100), attend a court-approved truancy prevention program, or have their driving privileges suspended or revoked.


Related: American International Schools (what to look for)


Apart from the above penalties that mostly impact students in California, there are also penalties for parents if they have been negligent in their duties to compel their child to attend school. These penalties also progress in severity on the second or third conviction. It begins with a fine of $100 or less for the first offence, a fine of $250 or less for the second offence, and a fine of $500 or less on the third conviction. If the parent is unable to pay the fines, they may be referred to a parent education and counselling program.

Cases of prosecution are extreme, and are usually reserved for parents of children who have missed more than 30, 60, or 80 days of the school year. There is an entire section in the California law, which refers to parents of children over the age of six, in kindergarten or grades one to eight.  Once they’ve been offered language-accessible support services and their child still does not comply, they can be fined up to $2,000 and/or sent to jail for a year or less, according to the penal code.

Many states have differing programs and legal codes, but 40 states have provisions that include jail time for parents involved. Basically, the TLDR version is, it’s not something that you should take lightly.

Try to plan holidays around summer or other vacations

One of the best ways to get around all of this bother is to try to plan your trips home, around the school calendar. Try to schedule your travel during the 10 or 11 week break your child will get from the end of May to early August, or from early June to mid-August (depending on the state and school).  The obvious downside to traveling during those times is that you’re doing it during peak time in the US. Which may not be so much of an issue if you can get a direct flight out of the country, but if there are stopovers in the US involved, things will be a little pricier. It will also mean having to deal with bigger crowds at airports and more chance of flying on a packed plane.


RelatedUS Preschool from an Australian Mum’s perspective


Of course, it’s not always possible to get leave from work, or to travel at the specific time of year that would work best for your child’s schooling. That doesn’t mean that you can’t scrutinise the school’s public holiday (and other holiday) schedule and plan around those. It will help to minimize the number of learning days that your child will miss out on, and might help in your pitch to the school when you’re discussing your plans.

Consider the learning aspects of your time away

We’ll get back to discussing your plans with your child’s school in a moment. First, let’s prepare for that meeting by thinking about and writing down the learning opportunities that your child will have while they are away. Will you be visiting museums, or taking the opportunity for your children to learn some of the history of places that you visit? You can also ask your child’s school if they can complete any extra-credit projects to make up for the time they’ve been out of class.


Related: A year long US road trip


Some great ideas include a PowerPoint presentation (if they’re old enough) on an aspect of your trip, or the country you’re visiting, an essay on a milestone in that country’s history, or even about a significant scientific discovery made in that country and how it impacted the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to teach your children about the place they’re visiting, regardless of whether they spent part of their lives there or not.

Stay away from peak testing/exam times

US classroom desks and chairs

Missing exams, even if they’re not statewide, is also frowned upon.

At least 25 US states run standardized tests for students, to measure their comprehension and knowledge application abilities. Schools receiving federal funding must also test maths and English of its student cohort annually between third and eighth grade, again in the ninth grade, and 12th. It’s best to ensure your child is present for these exams, so that you can gauge their progress at school and catch any shortcomings early. Or even to boost your child’s confidence if they had previously been struggling at school. It can also be more difficult for you to justify taking your child out of school during test times, and schools might be stricter with their policies.

Talk to your child’s teachers and principal

Don’t spring your travel plans on your child’s teacher or the school at the last minute, you’re going to need plenty of time to plan, and the school won’t like feeling as though they weren’t warned appropriately. Schedule a meeting, or write a letter explaining how important it is for your child to travel to visit family and friends back home, why you need to take them out of school at that particular time of year, what you have planned as far as teaching opportunities while you’re away, and asking for extra credit activities, or extra work for your child to do while they’re out.


Related: Understanding the American school system


Some schools will suggest unenrolling your child if it is a prolonged absence, and re-enrolling them upon their return. Usually that is because the schools are funded for the number of ‘bums on seats’, and having your child out will reduce that funding.

Write absence notes in advance

Don’t wait until after you return to write notes of absence for your child, instead talk to the school about the appropriate excuse that will be accepted, and send your notes in before you leave. That should hopefully put a stop to any truancy notices that may be sent to your home while you’re travelling and mean you won’t have any extra headaches on your return, like court dates or truancy programs. Keep in mind that the tolerance for “unexcused absences” is pretty low in some school districts – a student only needs to be out for a day or two with no explanation, for the truancy train to be set in motion.

US TRUANCY POLICIES BY STATE/SCHOOL BOARD

In an effort to get as much up-to-date information for parents living across the USA, Bright Lights of America contacted the Education Departments in each state to find out what their truancy policies are, and how expat parents can legally take their child out of school to travel. We also spoke to a few expat mothers and school employees on their experiences with having students out of school for a prolonged period of time.

Can’t find your state in the list? It’s probably because I haven’t heard back yet, but I will update this post as I get more responses.

Alabama

We weren’t able to contact the Alabama Department of Education, however we did chat with Australian expat mum Kelly, who has lived in the state for the past two years with her sons aged 7 and 8. While they were first acclimatising to life in the US, the family would take short trips, some of which meant a little bit of time off school. But more recently, they have visited friends and family in Australia for three weeks.

“I have just let the schools know in advance for the shorter absences and quite a lot of warning for the three week absence to give the teacher a chance to give school work to my boys so they’re not too far behind on their return,” Kelly said.
“When we first arrived in Huntsville we were at our local public school and they warned us that we couldn’t take more than 10 days unexcused and would get frequent recorded messages telling us that our child was absent from school. We are now at a Private School and they were pretty unphased by the absence and organised for school work to be done while we were away.”

So the laid-back attitude towards the three-week absence was at a private school, which might explain why it is less strict than the public school, considering the differing funding structures.

“We moved the boys to private school for academic reasons, however, the private schools definitely are not as strict with the absentee rule as the public schools. I don’t think they really like the kids having extended leave however, generally they see the benefit of experiencing the travel and what the kids might learn about when they’re on their vacation,” she said.
“I think talking to the school always helps, but the public schools are very black and white with the absentee rule and will take action if the kids are absent for more than the allocated amount. I have heard of people un-enrolling their kids for the time period and then re-enrolling them upon their return.”

The Alabama State Department of Education attendance manual sets out some of the hard-and-fast rules that schools have to abide by, although each separate school district is able to decide what they will deem an ‘excused’ versus an ‘unexcused’ absence. The manual does have examples of ‘excused’ absences.

  • Illness
  • A death in the immediate family
  • Bad weather that may endanger the life or health of the student
  • Legal quarantine
  • Emergency conditions (deemed by the principal)

If students miss more than 18 days of school in a year, either excused or unexcused, they are viewed by the school as being “chronically absent”, but those who are absent from school without a note that excuses them (in the eyes of the school) are viewed as “truants”.

The manual also sets out terms for investigating absences from school, and if a valid excuse isn’t found, the attendance officer investigating can bring criminal prosecution against the parent or guardian. Here’s the process for prosecution:

  • Parent or guardian will be left a written notice at their residence, requiring the student to attend school within three days
  • Prosecution may be undertaken by the local superintendent, attendance officer, principal, teacher, probation officer etc.
  • If the student becomes a habitual truant, is disrupting class, or a parent writes to the court saying they are unable to control their child, the child will be referred to juvenile court
  • Parents and guardians cannot be convicted for not having the abovementioned child enrolled in school, or for not sending them to school

Alaska

Up in Alaska, the law stipulates that children aged between seven and 16 is expected to attend school for the entire school year, unless the child is receving “comparable academic education” in the form of homeschooling or a similar arragement. Alaska Department of Education and Early Development information officer Erin Hardin said choosing to un-enroll a child from school is a decision for the parent and their local school to come to.

If a parent or guardian knowingly fails to comply with the state’s compulsory attendance requirements (students are absent unlawfully for five days), they are liable to pay a $500 fine.

“Students with unexcused absences of more than 10 consecutive days shall be exited on the day after the tenth day of the unexcused absence,” Ms Hardin said.
“Families should work with their school to discuss the best way to ensure a student’s academic education continues while they are absent from school.”

Arkansas

The Arkansas Department of Education director of communications Kimberly Friedman said ”We are not aware of a specific law that addresses the issue…” of expats taking children out of school to travel home for a significant period of time. She encourages parents to talk with their child’s school regarding these matters.

California

We detailed California’s truancy policy, and the penalties for breaching it, above, under the “Know your school district’s truancy policy” subheading. California Department of Education Information officer, Jonathan Medick said “the control of many specific decisions – textbooks, schedules, etc. – may vary depending on the specific county, district or school”.

“The law provides that schools and school districts have a certain amount of discretion regarding student penalties for truancy as long as they are consistent with state law. But in terms of how schools work with parents who are taking their child out of the country to visit a home country or a vacation, that would probably depend on the school,” Mr Medick said.

Excused absences in California are set out in the California Education Code § 48205, and you can read them in full there. But the short list includes:

  • The student’s illness
  • Is under quarantine as advised by a county or city health officer
  • Having medical, dental, optometrical, or chiropractive appointments
  • Attending the funeral of an immediate family member, as long as the absence is not more than a day if the service is in California, and three days if it is outside the state

NorCal Experience

Australian expat Kate moved to the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Matt, and children Audrey, 12, and Digby, 10. They decided to take the opportunity of a visa renewal, to return to Melbourne in 2017, which meant they needed to take their middle and elementery schoolers with them.

“I had a good rapport with my son’s fourth grade teacher already, so I discussed it with her. For my middle schooler, I emailed the year coordinator (who is also the school principal) and they coordinated with my daughter’s teachers,” Kate said.
“I didn’t have a huge amount of trouble. Probably because I gave a lot of warning – as soon as I knew that there was a possibility of the kids missing school, I got on to the schools.”

Audrey and Digby were away from their schools for three weeks all up, and had “independent study contracts” to complete while they were away. They used their jetlag recovery time to complete school work set by their teachers and to create travel diary for their time away. Kate’s tip for other expat parents in California is to start talking to schools early.

“It took me two weeks to get a straight answer out of the middle school on the process for setting up an independent study contract,” she said.
“…Middle school required a lot more coordination. It was really important to support my daughter in following through with meeting with each of her teachers to get her assignments before we travelled.”

SoCal Experience

Australian expat Jenny has been in San Diego with her partner Phil and her children – the youngest is Noah, who is now 19, since 2012. She took Noah out of school just once during his US school career, over Christmas 2013.

“Once I realized how complicated it was, I gave it a miss. I only took him out for a week (or a little more) right before Christmas 2013,” Jenny said.
“We traveled to Colorado to celebrate his brother’s 21st and Christmas. His sister flew in from New York – so the family was all there.”

She had no idea of the “brouhaha” she was about to step into, and described herself as “clueless” of the implications in the US.

“We had previously pulled kids out on a semi-regular basis in Australia for vacations and travel to family events. They were always accommodating and approachable and saw these occasions as opportunities to broaden the kids’ minds and expose them to experiences they don’t get in the classroom,” she said.
“We would generally have them finish some task such as journal writing or math exercises related to their trip.”

Jenny was surprised and confused by her son’s teacher’s alarm and mild panic over their holiday plans, but said she understood the reactions more when the funding situation was explained to her.

“Someone explained that they get their funding based on daily enrolment numbers. My understanding is that funding in Australia is based on day 8 enrolment numbers – numbers ebb and flow but they are usually somewhat static,” she said.
“The same is almost certainly true in the US, and this seems like an overly bureaucratic system to me. I don’t know how it is implemented though.”

That week off school meant that Jenny had to complete a home schooling contract for Noah, and he needed to do set work, that was signed off by his teachers. Jenny’s advice to parents who are allowing their child to take time off school to travel is simple.

“Communicate with the school early and be prepared for their negativity and judgement,” she said.
“Be ready to argue the benefits of the trip to the child’s emotional and social development, but be compliant with their requests to keep up with their academics.”

Delaware

The Delaware Education Department noted the 2016 Delaware Code Title 14 – Education, Chapter 27 School Attendance in its response, saying that the code dictates “process and time restrictions”, however local policy dictates what equates to an absence, depending on the amount of time spent away, and whether it is an excused absence.

The code is applicable to children in kindergarten through to 12th grade, with unexcused absences:

  • After the 10th day, the school will notify a parent or guardian, and a teacher will visit the student’s home
  • After the 15th day, a parent or guardian will be asked to attend the school for a conference or counselling
  • After the 20th day, the school refers the case for prosecution
  • If, after prosecution, the student has not returned to school within five days, the school will notify the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, and request intervention.

Delaware defines a truant as a student who has been away from school without a valid excuse for more than three days during the school year. You’ll have to speak to your school or district board of education to find out what constitutes a valid excuse to them.

Schools are able to file complaints in court, regardless of whether students and parents have attended counselling or conferences. For first offences, parents can be fined between $25 and $300 and/or jailed for up to 10 days. Second offences garner a fine of between $50 and $500, and/or jailed for up to 20 days, and third offenses attract fines of between $230 and $1,150 and/or up to 30 days in jail.

The Delaware Education Department said “Parents should contact their school ahead of any extended absence and work with them to prepare for it”.

Florida

The Florida Department of Education advises parents to work with their school or district “on a case-by-case basis, as many of the policies would be determined by the length of stay and local policy”.  But compulsory attendance rules are set out in the 2018 Florida Statutes of School Attendance and Enforcement of School Attendance.

The code allows for parents to be granted days off for their children for:

  • Religious classes or religious holidays
  • An appointment with a licensed health care practitioner for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioural analysis etc)

School boards are required to follow up with parents to justify their child’s absence from school. If a sufficient excuse is not provided, the student has to be given the chance to make up the work they missed on those days. After five unexcused absences in a month, or 10 within 90 days, the student will be referred to a ‘child study team’ and a meeting with parents may ensue. If that doesn’t fix the issue, the child study team will evaluate alternative education programs or begin attendance contracts for the student.

Georgia

Georgia Department of Education director of communications, Meghan Frick said that the state does not have a specific policy related to extended “leave” for children visiting families in other countries.

“State law classifies 10 unexcused absences as truancy, which triggers a referral to juvenile court,” Ms Frick said.
“We would recommend speaking to their local school counselor [for advice prior to skipping school to travel].”

Ms Frick confirmed that some families opt to withdraw their child from school for the duration of their time away, and re-enroll them upon their return. Parents who receive a court summons and are found guilty, could face a fine of between $25 and $100, up to 30 days in jail or a community service order.

Hawaii

Children living in Hawaii are already lucky to be surrounded by beautiful beaches and the ocean, but that doesn’t mean their parents won’t want to take them on a trip every now and then. According to state’s law, school-age children can only be exempt from compulsory school attendance if they are ill, are 15-years-old or older and have a job, or when they are being homeschooled.

The Hawaii State Department of Education’s communications specialist Krislyn Yano said parents who want to home school their child need to submit form 4140 and already have a curriculum planned for their child before it can be approved. The law states that the curriculum “Shall be structured and based on educational objectives as well as the needs of the child, be cumulative and sequential, provide a range of up-to-date knowledge and needed skills, and take into account the interests, needs and abilities of the child”.

Indiana

Allowing your child to skip school to travel home, is a decision that the Indiana Department of Education leaves up to individual school district and its attendance policy. In a statement, the department’s press secretary Adam Baker said the state allows students to leave for “extended periods of time, whether for vacation (in or out of the country) or for cultural/religious reasons”.

The students‘ attendance can be handled in a variety of ways, which is up to the local school district to determine. There are four options available to school administrators in this situation:

Option 1: Withdrawal (out of state transfer): A school can withdraw the student as an out-of-state transfer. The parent should be told that they must enroll the student in school in the area where they are staying. This option may be considered especially if the parent is uncertain about returning to the state.

Option 2: Withdrawal (homeschool): At the election of the parent, the parent can choose to take responsibility for the student‘s education by homeschooling while they are away. In this case, the student may be withdrawn as a transfer to homeschooling. The placement of the student would be made locally if the student returns to school.

Option 3: Unexcused absence: A school can mark the student as an ―unexcused absence.‖ Local school district policy should be reviewed to determine if the student becomes truant or should be expelled for lack of attendance.

Option 4: Excused absence: If the parent or guardian indicates that the trip is for educational purposes (e.g., a trip for an educational or cultural experience), the parent indicates the length of time the student will be away and when the student will return, and the principal agrees in writing .”

Mr Baker said students who leave for a long period of time should be marked as being “removed by parent”, and the school or district will decide on credits to be awarded and placement once they return.

Indiana education policy provides for exceptions in compulsory school attendance for educationally-related non classroom activities that meet certain conditions, and a student can be excused from school without being recorded as absent, as long as an accepted excuse is “operative”.

Iowa

Parents of students attending Iowa Schools, should contact their school or district to find the policy that is applicable to their child.  School districts in Iowa are able to set their own standards for what is considered an excused or unexcused absence.

Iowa’s most recent attendance policy states: “School districts may define by policy what are excused and unexcused absences. The determination of whether an absence is excused is made by the school, not by the parent.”

Kansas

Similar to Iowa, the Kansas Department of Education leaves decisions on absences due to expat travel to be handed by the local school district. Although there are some parts that are outlined in the School Attendance, Curriculum and Accreditation section of the law.

“Whenever a child is required by law to attend school and is enrolled in school, and the child is inexcusably absent therefrom on either three consecutive school days or five school days in any semester or seven school days in any school year, whichever of the foregoing occurs first, the child shall be considered to be not attending school as required by law. A child is inexcusably absent from school if the child is absent therefrom all or a significant part of a school day without a valid excuse acceptable to the school employee designated by the board of education to have responsibility for the school attendance of such child.”

Parents should receive a written notice informing them that their child has continually been absent from school without a valid excuse, and that reoccurrence of the behaviour will be reported to the district attorney.

Kentucky

Luke Gilbert is an attorney in the Legal Office of the Kentucky Department of Education. While he stressed that he is not able to provide legal advice to anyone other than the Kentucky Education Department and the Kentucky Board of Education, he was able to provide some information about the laws in the state.

You can find Kentucky’s Compulsory Attendance law here, which states that children aged between six and 18-years-old be sent to school buy parents or guardians. If the student reaches 18 before graduating, they are responsible for their own education until they receive a high school diploma or reach 21.

“There is no method allowed by statute for removing students from the education system entirely prior to age 18. Previously, a student between the ages of 16 and 18 could withdraw under KRS 159.010(2), but now all school districts in Kentucky are required to adopt the compulsory attendance requirements of KRS 159.010(1)(b),” Mr Gilbert said.
“Students who have not obtained their high school diploma or reached the age of 21 must either be enrolled in the public school system, or be enrolled and regularly attend a private, parochial, or church day school. KRS 159.010 There are other exemptions, such as physical/mental inability to attend, visiting a family member overseas who is deployed by the military and on R&R time, or pursuing an “educational enhancement opportunity” that has been determined by their principal to have “significant educational value”. These and other exemptions can be found at KRS 159.030 and KRS 159.035.”

The law recognises students as ‘truants’ when they miss or are late for three or more days of school without an excuse. Once a student has been reported as a ‘truant’ twice, they are known as ‘habitual truant’, and parents found to have failed to comply with their duties to get their child to school could face a $100 for the first offense, and a $250 fine for the second.

Maine

There is no state level policy for students in Maine who need to be out of class for an extended period of time. However, the Maine Department of Education does have a page on its website dedicated to attendance and truancy.

Maryland

Director of Communications for the Maryland Department of Education, Bill Reinhard said there is no “special policy” in the state to handle students who are out of school for an extended period of time.

“Absence from school for two weeks to a month or more is considered quite substantial by most experts and falls in line with Maryland’s definition of chronic absenteeism. (If a student is enrolled for entire year – 10 per cent of 180 is 18 days of absence and that is considered chronically absent),” Mr Reinhard said.
“If the absence is excused–the school system has signed off on the extended absence in some way–the student would not be truant.  But still considered chronically absent by our standards. ”

There are no state issued penalties for parents who excuse their children from school.

“That said, the potential is certainly there for the student’s grades to be affected, depending on how all of this is handled by the local school system.  The State doesn’t make any particular recommendations in that regard,” he said.

Mississippi

The Mississippi Department of Education (being the easiest to Google because I just had to think back to Matilda, by Roald Dahl), sent me over to their Compulsory School Attendance Enforcement law page.  In a nutshell, the law requires parents or guardians to ensure children aged between six and 17-years-old are enrolled in school. The actual Compulsory School Attendance Requirements are set out in legal speak as well. It stipulates acceptable excuses for children being absent from school:

  • An authorised school activity with prior approval from the school, including field trips, athletics carnivals, student conventions, music festivals, etc.
  • When isolation of a student is ordered by a county health officer, State Board of Health, or school official
  • Death or serious illness of an immediate family member (defined as spouse, children, grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, including stepbrothers and stepsisters)
  • For a medical or dental appointment
  • For court proceedings
  • Observance of a religious event
  • “When it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the superintendent of the school district, or his designee, that the purpose of the absence is to take advantage of a valid educational opportunity such as travel, including vacations or other family travel. Approval of the absence must be gained from the superintendent of the school district, or his designee, before the absence, but the approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.”

Missouri 

Each Missouri school district is responsible for making their own policies and procedures in relation to attendance. The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education coordinator of school financial and administrative services, David Trammel pointed us to the compulsory attendance law.

This statute outlines Missouri’s compulsory attendance law and penalties for non-compliance.  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is however watchful of school district’s overall attendance rates since it drives some of the data related to Annual Performance Report and our state funding formula is driven by average daily attendance.  However, in terms of the policies and procedures related to attendance, that is a local issue for each school district to address,” Mr Trammel said.

If you’re thinking about removing your child from a Missouri school, then re-enrolling them when you return, you might want to reconsider that idea.

“Again, this is a local issue, but when a student transfers out of school there is an assumption that when they return there will be some body of work from the school that they transferred to that would fill the gap in the instruction missed while the student was gone,” he said.
“If there is simply a gap in time with no instruction, it makes it very difficult for the child to make progress educationally.  If that student is in high school, it becomes extremely problematic if a student missed a month of a course.  This would make it extremely difficult for the student to be granted credit if they missed a month of instruction and did not keep up with the work while they were gone.”

Mr Trammel recommends working with the school district well in advance when a long term absence is planned.

“Districts are generally understanding but attendance is not just a statutory issue, it is also crucial to student performance making it a challenge for both the parent and the district when it comes to long term absences.”

Montana

The Montana Department of Education directed us to contact individual school districts within the state.

Bozeman Public School District

The Bozeman Public School District is located in Montana’s south, and is Custer Gallatin National Forest. The district’s deputy superintendant of instruction Dr Marilyn King said Bozeman allows expat children to take time off school to return home and “hold the [child’s] space”.

“We unenroll if the extended absence will occur over a count day or during SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] testing,” Dr King said.
“There are no penalties from the district. If a child is out longer than the stated timeframe and we have a waiting list for the school (and the student is in the school by choice), the student may lose their spot in that school.”

Dr King said a student would be un-enrolled from a school if they would be away for six weeks or more, and that decisions on absences of greater than a month would be decided on a case-by-case basis “depending on the family circumstances”.

“The principal and the family and the teacher work together to come up with a plan so that the student is able to remain current on work. We only would notify the SROs [School Resource Officers] if we receive no communication from the family and if the family extended the timeline.”

New Hampshire

Over in New Hampshire, you also need to refer to the policy dictated by your local school districts. However, the New Hampshire Department of Education’s director of communications Anthony Schinella did mention that parents should not remove their child from the school and then re-enroll them in the case of skipping school to travel. Instead they would need to make for the lost class time and work.

Children in the state must be enrolled in school if they are aged between six and 16-years-old. Accepted excuses for a student to be absent from school include:

  • Physical or mental condition prevents them
  • Receiving home education
  • If it is in the “best welfare” of the child

New Mexico

New Mexico law requires children aged between five and 18, to attend school however the type of schools they are legally able to attend include private, home, or state schools. In a response to Bright Lights of America‘s questions on allowing expat children to skip school to travel home, the New Mexico Constituent Services and Strategic Initiatives section provided a statement:

“While there may be a way for families to work out some kind of arrangement with their school, longer term absences may have to be dealt with differently.  Homeschooling may be an option.  For continuity and best outcomes for students, a collaboration between school and family is the best path.”

Ohio

We’re down to Ohio, and if I thought everyone had read about every single state (or at least one other) up to now, I could stop telling you to contact your local School District to get information on their policies.

The Ohio Department of Education referred us to the their page for parents who are having a problem with their school or district,  which states that the locally elected school board “has the authority to determine policy and establish procedures for many areas in accordance with Ohio school law.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma also advises parents to contact their local school or district to find out the specific rules to pertain to them. So we headed over to the Oklahoma Statutes Title 70. Schools. Parents must “compel” a child over the age of five, and under 18, to attend school, but can be excused “due to an emergency, by the principal teacher of the school in which such child is enrolled, at the request of the parent, guardian, custodian or other person having control of such child”.

Other accepted reasons for excusing a child from school in Oklahoma include:

  • Observance of a religious holiday
  • Attending a military funeral

If parents are found to have not lived up to their duty to ensure their child attends school, they can be fined between $25 and $50 for the first office or jailed for less than 5 days for the first offence. The second offence garners a fine of between $50 and $100 or less than 10 days in prison, and for three or more offences, a fine of between $100 and $250, and jail time of less than 15 days.

Putnam City School District

The Putnam City School District, within Oklahoma state, has a policy of dropping students from enrollment if they miss 10 consecutive days of school. Director of Communications Steve Lindley said the same process could be used for children leaving a school in the district for a prolonged period.

“At the high school level, we encourage students who are going to be gone for a month – such as student families spending time in Mexico with relatives at Christmas – to let us know,” Mr Lindley said.
“We work with them to develop a plan for making up the work they will miss, work they will make up either before they leave or after they come back. If we’ve communicated with the student and/or family, the work gets done and we reactivate their enrollment when they return. From a school standpoint, it’s best for schools because after 10 days subsequent absences are not counted against the district in school report cards issued by the state.”

Mr Lindley said that more than five parent-excused absences in one semester for a high school student is too many, and that a letter is sent to parents after five unverified absences.

“For its accountability system, the state says too much is 18 absences in a year, or broken down, two absences a month. That’s a rule of thumb in elementary schools, but at secondary schools it’s more than 5 parent-excused absences a semester. And as noted, at all levels, letters go home after 5 unverified student absences,” he said.
“At some point after that, parents can be referred to municipal authorities by the school district. Another possible intersection with authorities is if neighbors or other people in the community call the Department of Human Services if they see school-age children outside playing day after day. That has happened. In terms of consequences with the school, it’s the students who face issues. They may lose any exemptions they have from taking finals. If they don’t make up their work, it’s possible they could fail a class and not earn that credit.”

Pennsylvania Experience

Australian expat Bronwyn and her husband Eric have lived in Pennsylvania with their daughter Lily-Blue, 11, about four years ago. Their son Corey, 17, attends boarding school back in Australia. Eric and Bronwyn have taken Lily-Blue out of school twice for travel plans, and usually broaches the topic with a phone call or a letter to the school to confirm their travel plans.

Bronwyn said that the school has always responded “in a positive manner” to their travel plans.

“The second time we were gone for five months, so Lily-Blue was re-enrolled at her former school in Sydney. We needed to show proof to her current school here in PA that that was our intention so we had a letter sent  from the school principle in Sydney stating that she was indeed enrolled to start school, the letter also included the end date on which we were due to return back to the USA,” Bronwyn said.

She suggested removing children from school if they will be away for more than two weeks, and then re-enrolling them once they return to Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Department of Education communications director Megan Geoghegan said while schools and districts make their own attendance decisions in accordance with the law, they are also reported to the state.

“If a child remains enrolled but leaves the school for an extended period, the district would mark him or her as absent. At the state level, we classify chronic absence as missing 10 percent or more of the school year,” Ms Geoghegan said.
“In the case of a 180-day school year (which is established as the required count in our regulations), that would be 18 days. Chronic absence is a measure in our system of school accountability, so any student who misses 18 days or more would be considered chronically absent would factor into the school’s star rating.”

But it might be more prudent for students leaving a Rhode Island school for a prolonged period of time, to un-enroll first.

“However, depending on the district’s knowledge of the student’s situation, it may be more appropriate to un-enroll the student upon leaving the country and then re-enroll the student if he or she returns,” she said.
“If this is the appropriate course of action, the school would use the most appropriate exit code, in this case, most likely, “transfer to a school outside the country.”  In this case, the student would not be marked absent during the period of un-enrollment, and the district may see an impact on their state aid, which is driven largely by the count of students enrolled.  ”

Utah

We finally got to a state that has the right to take your child out of school for a preplanned family trip, enshrined in law. Welcome to Utah! Where the law states:

“Notwithstanding Part 2, Compulsory Education, an LEA shall record an excused absence for a scheduled family event or a scheduled proactive visit to a health care provider if:
(a) the parent or guardian submits a written statement at least one school day before the scheduled absences; and
(b) the student agrees to make up course work for school days missed for the scheduled absence in accordance with LEA [school district or charter school] policy.”

The school just has to determine that the absence will not adversely impact the student’s education, which is why working some educational aspects into your trip is always a good idea. Utah State Board of Education Director of Law and Professional Practices, Ben Rasmussen said that the longer the trip, the more difficult it is for a school to accommodate the family’s request.

“One option Utah parents may want to consider if they have extensive foreign travel plans during the school year is to enroll their student  in one of Utah’s online public charter schools, where students could continue their education with great schedule flexibility while traveling,” Mr Rasmussen said.

Virginia

The Virginia Board of Education will mark your child as chronically absent, if they do not attend for 10 per cent of the school year. It doesn’t make a difference if those absences are excused or not. The Board’s director of media relations, Charles B. Pyle said chronic absenteeism is a factor in school accreditation and is reported in online report cards for schools and school divisions.

However, the decisions on what constitutes an excused absence is up to the school district and should be discussed with your local school. Virginia Law states that if your child is absent for five school days and the school hasn’t been notified by a parent or guardian, a teacher or principal will notify the parents. If that effort fails, the student will take part in a conference with a parent and the school.

Wyoming

Schools in Wyoming cannot “claim membership” for a student who has been away from school for more than 10 consecutive days. Wyoming Department of Education communications director Michelle Panos said students may continue to be enrolled in their school district while they are away, as long as they expect to return.

“However, the technical aspect on the district side may be that they must “unenroll” the student when they leave and then “re-enroll” the student when they return in the student information system, depending on the system. It is best to consult the school district in question concerning their procedures,” Ms Paonos said.

For answers to your legal questions we recommend consulting an attorney who can answer your questions given different scenarios.

Everything you need to know about skipping school to travel especially for expats in the US