We received many thoughtful responses to our Question of the Week regarding attendance and whether it’s OK for kids to occasionally miss school, even if they’re not ill. The question was tied to Thursday’s story about how two Seattle middle schools are emphasizing attendance in an effort to improve student performance.
Many respondents were quick to point out that some absences could be just as enriching as spending the day in school. Richard Stowell of Kenmore writes:
A good student should be allowed to take a break from school if he/she makes up classwork ahead and has school permission. Oftentimes students can learn valuable lessons from travel or other such activities.
Here is a selection of other responses. Some have been edited for length.
I allow my daughter, who is in ninth grade, to have one day per quarter to use at her discretion. It is her mental health day. With the amount of responsibilities she has in school and in out-of-school activities, I want to instill in her the value of taking care of herself and knowing that sometimes you just need a break. She is learning to identify for herself how to balance commitment and recognize her capacity.
—Petaki Cobell, Seattle
The school classroom, and specifically successful learning, was paramount in my sons’ lives. However, if a learning opportunity outside of the institutional setting presented itself, or even just a once-in-a-lifetime experience sprang up, my kids got to skip school or arrive late. One missed a week to attend his great-grandma’s 100th birthday; his second-grade teacher assigned wonderful lessons that engaged him even more with his family history. Both kids were late one day when we set up a telescope to project an image of that morning’s solar eclipse. One missed a day to ski on the last day of Crystal Mountain’s season after having missed the rest of the season with an injury. Missing such opportunities in favor of mere presence in the classroom is a lesson that teaches kids that schools aren’t for learning but for inculcating obedience. Kids smell a rat pretty quickly. My kids learned how to learn in school and immediately carried that skill into the world.
—Jane Hansen, Buckley
The value of formal education is not only in the learning in the classroom; it is also in the habits of attendance and accomplishing something very large with consistent sustained effort. Learning this lesson strictly early in life enhances discipline and dependability and grows self confidence in knowing that you are dependable to yourself and your bigger goals. Taking a ‘day off’ counters this systematic mentality. Only in extremely rare cases is it wise to allow a child to skip school.
—John Woodside, Seattle
I skipped class frequently in high school, often just because it was a nice day and I preferred to be skiing, fishing or just reading a good book. I don’t regret it a bit. I always made up the work, and I think it taught me to be independent and responsible, which proved valuable in college and graduate school.
—Nick Siler, Seattle
The kid’s an honor student. But he misses 30 school days a year. ‘He’s not a morning person … he sleeps through the alarm … it’s not affecting his school work,’ says the parent. My questions? What’s he do when he’s employed and has to report on time? What does ignoring a reasonable expectation of a legitimate authority do to the kid’s perception of authority? Is it coincidence that the kid whose parents don’t expect him to show up at school also don’t expect him to do any chores at home, not even pick up his laundry or his dishes? With its direct and indirect implications, permitting truancy is just plain bad policy.
—JoAnne Collier, Auburn
My dad was a tall drink of water. At 6’8″, he could cast a fly 60 feet effortlessly. Each Friday in May, we would drive to ‘our river” to fly fish. It didn’t matter that I was 11 and missing school because it meant more of the catch, a dozen fresh trout dropped at the rectory so Father McFadden could have his ‘Catholic fish Friday.’ Took awhile for the other kids to figure out why I was missing. Looking back, I think my dad was hoping for some extra points when he walked the stairway to heaven.
—Michael Hamilton, Seattle
My favorite when teaching was, ‘Can you give my child his work for next week? We will be gone on vacation.’ My answer? No, I cannot recreate the teaching, discussions and learning we will have next week. I always wondered what people thought actually happens in class. Do they think teachers simply pass out ‘the work,’ and then sit quietly while the kids teach themselves? If students want credit for and learning from classes, they should attend classes. No, kids should not miss school unless they are ill.
—Steven Simpson, Snoqualmie
One of the excuses students make in not coming to school is that they won’t be missing that much in class (no essays, projects due), and they can easily ask their peers for what they missed. In a sense, coming from the point of view of a recent high-school graduate, this is true. Some classes just watch a movie, or perhaps do a lot of independent book work, and many student find this to be pointless. I’ve made this excuse to my parents before, and they bought it. To answer the question, no, it is never OK for students to miss school. However, teachers need to make sure that each day in class, something important is going on. I am not a parent yet, but if I was, I would not allow my child to miss school. If a parent instills in their kids the love for learning, absenteeism will not be a problem.
—Hannah Matro, Seattle
A final note: Check out the replay of Friday’s live chat to hear the reaction we got when we posed the same question to a principal, a City Year AmeriCorps mentor, and a Hopkins researcher who has published extensive studies on attendance.