During the first two years of this school, absences due to vacations and other trips were not an issue in the least: not because of any enforcement or lack of enforcement of the policy on our part but because children were not missing school due to mid-year trips. In the third year, however, for whatever reason, students at all levels began taking trips with their families that usually lasted for a week. The assistant principal had over twenty requests for such trips for the month of October alone. Whatever might have been the reason for these trips, children were missing substantial amounts of school.
From the outset, the Ridgeview board, administration, and faculty discouraged "vacations, trips, doctor's appointments, and other non-illness related absences when school is in session," as is stated in our policy (SE-2.0). Of course, doctor's appointments are hard to get after school, so we have only asked that students leave class without disturbing it and complete whatever work they miss. We have never failed to excuse a doctor's, dentist, or other medical appointment. Nor have we ever failed to excuse an absence related to a death in the family. Indeed, the Excused Absence/Tardy section of the policy clearly states what absences will be excused. Nowhere does it say that vacations will be excused, rather that "pre-arranged absences of an educational nature must be approved by the Principal." Moreover, certain absences have been excused that are not defined in the policy, such absences related to a parent being deployed to Iraq. The board, teachers, and administration are not unreasonable people.
Nonetheless, what emerged was a pattern of planned trips and vacations that took students out of class. While it is true many of the trips might have been broadly educational, only a couple of them were in any way comparable to the learning that takes place in the classroom, and those clearly could have been taken during the school's extended breaks. Moreover, it became impossible to determine whether a visit to grandma's or a wedding or going hunting could be deemed educational. To this end, the administration stated clearly as an elaboration of, but not a change in, the policy, that vacations, trips, and excursions would not be excused. We did NOT state that parents could not take such trips; indeed, how could we possibly prevent families from going out of town? We simply stated that such absences would not be excused.
In light of this policy, the only remaining question is what schoolwork will be accepted on the student's return from an unexcused absence. The first part of the policy reads, "When that [that being unavoidable absence due to the previous reasons listed] is unavoidable, students are responsible for any make-up work during their absence." Nonetheless, a revision adopted in June of 2002 states that, "Homework will not be sent home nor will credit be awarded for any work done during periods of unexcused absence." The policy appears to contradict itself. Yet the very important word here is unavoidable. Most trips that take place during the middle of the school year are clearly avoidable. There are, of course, exceptions, but a planned vacation does not constitute an exception and never did constitute an exception. Even so, we have been more lenient enforcing the policy as currently written, as will be shown. Let us first visit the various pros and cons of the arguments for accepting and not accepting homework.
Treating vacations just like absence due to illness. The argument for this approach is that the student might as well have been sick, and one absence is no different from any other. The teacher will still have to go through the same steps in making sure the student gets all his work and turns it all in. Besides, a trip to Louisiana, for example, during Mardi Gras can be very educational. Family time is important, too.
The argument against this approach is that vacations are not comparable to illness. The one is fun, and the other is not. Moreover, vacations tend to last for a week or more, whereas illness usually lasts for only a day or so. Travel, too, is certainly avoidable while illness is not (aside from observing proper hygiene, eating right, getting enough sleep). Nobody but a hypochondriac plans a sickness. Finally, the school year itself is constituted to give families ample vacation time during the three summer months and the time off at Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, and Easter. The teachers thus would have to do extra work in re-administering tests, re-teaching material, and grading things long past their due date, indeed to take time away from the students who were in class the whole time to attend students who were absent by choice.
Giving no credit for any work done while on an unexcused vacation. The argument for this approach can be seen in the preceding paragraph.
The argument against it is that there are certain things that students can do while on vacation and which, if they did not do them at all, would be "showstoppers" for the year, such as failing to read a central piece of literature or to write a certain paper.
Teachers are given the discretion of accepting some work from students returning from an unexcused absence. What that work might be is left totally up to the teacher. We do not wish, however, to have parents pressuring teachers a week or more in advance to have all the assignments given to the students, to give students tests that have not even been written, to e-mail everything daily while the student is on the trip (as more than one parent has suggested), in short to increase unreasonably the amount of work teachers already do.
Simply not counting the work missed by the student on vacation at all. The argument for this approach is that students will not be penalized for work missed while on vacation, and the teacher will not have to do the extra work mentioned above. The student will simply be graded for the work he did while in class.
The argument against this approach is that it constitutes a clear incentive to go on vacation. The student can do less work for the year and get one or more trips every year to boot. It would, of course, make sense to take trips during the final week of a quarter or a semester when all the tests are given. Students who get to go on trips would gain an edge over students who do not go on trips.
We do not think that the pro-trip side of the issue is wholly without merit. Nonetheless, we do clearly believe that students are better off in class during the academic year. Parents may very well take a trip with their children, but much of the work missed will not be given credit. How much will be counted is left up to the discretion of the teacher, and the administration will back up the teacher's decision. In many cases, the student's grades will not be affected radically. If an absence would cause a student to fail, should such a borderline student be missing so much class time in the first place? The intent of this policy should be clear. We want students in class taking advantage of everything to be gotten out of a very rigorous and content-rich curriculum.
Dr. T. O. Moore