Taking Kids out of School for Family Trips

Parent Q&A

  • Taking BUSD 4th grader out of school for up to 5 days - new policies?

    (7 replies)

    We would very much like to hear some up-to-date advice and feedback from parent experiences taking an elementary student in the BUSD system out for about 3-5 days.  Her grandmother who lives out of state is "not doing well" and my husband needs to visit.  The postings on BPN are either very old or refer to the high school.  My impression is that policies might be different at the elementary school level and also may have gotten stricter over the past few years (see http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/student-services/attendance-a... and FAQs).    Can any one please share their recent experiences in managing a hopefully "excused" absence by perhaps getting an independent study approved ahead of time or any other way to avoid the truancy notices, which are generated with 3 days of unexcused absences. 

    Most teachers are not aware of the administrative requirements of short-term independent study. Under the FAQ section of the link you posted, it notes that it's up to the  principal to grant such approvals. I took a number extended leaves with my kids while they were in BUSD elementary school. It was never a problem. The school received its money and my kids never suffered academically. But, I would personally request the forms from the school office and walk them to their teachers, and then make sure the completed forms found their way back to the office. And, of course, my kids did their required work. Only once did we receive a truancy letter which I brought into the school office. The secretary apologized and took care of it. Family is important and it will be much more difficult to take time off when your kids are in middle and high school. 

    We would go to the teachers a week or two ahead of time (or however much notice you have) and ask for an independent study assignment. A copy I believe stayed at the school, of the assignments, we would bring it back when we returned, teachers would grade it,a nd the secretary would stamp and file it. Then the school did not loose daily attendance money.

    We did this 3 years ago, when my son was a BUSD 5th grader, to take a family vacation overseas.  We chose not to go in summer due to weather and vacation schedule of relatives we were visiting. He missed about 7 days of school. I figured it was better to do it during elementary school than when he got older.  We got sent a truancy letter and told we had to meet with the truancy officer and the principal. I contacted the principal and just told him the truth, and we did not have to attend that meeting.  Our son had an excellent attendance record and was doing fine academically so it didn't harm his education. We felt it was well worth it.  I hate breaking rules, but am glad I did for a trip of a lifetime.  I recommend doing what you think is right for your child and family.  

    Three years ago we took my 5th grader out of BUSD for a week for a family vacation overseas to visit relatives and explore.  We told his teacher in advance, and the teacher was fine with it as my son was doing fine academically, and he had a great attendance record. We got a truancy letter after we got home informing us we had to meet with a truancy officer and the principal, per BUSD policy.  I e-mailed the principal and was honest about why my son was absent. He thanked me and I did not have to attend the meeting. Overall, that part was stressful, but I think sometimes you have to do what you feel is right for your child and family, even if it is breaking the rules.  We had a wonderful time and our family will always remember this trip.

    Hi. I can speak to this from both an elementary and middle school perspective. There really is no more independent study. We took our kids to a family reunion on the East Coast last October in order to see an Aunt who was very ill. This was not a vacation by any means, but it was very important for our whole family to be there. I gave notice to the school in writing 2 weeks before we left that we would be taking schoolwork and assignments with us, and working with our teachers to stay current. The kids completed all of their work and turned it in when we got home and had no problems getting right back into classwork. However, all of this work was for naught. I got letter after letter for truancy, requesting us to meet with the principal and truancy officer, threatening punishment, etc. It was discouraging, yet after all of the threats, nothing happened. My kids are good students and we are supportive parents. I think it is ridiculous to put families through this charade when that is not what the truancy system was created for. But, unfortunately it all boils down to money. Each day that our children were not seated in their chair in the class, the school missed out on payment. It is downright pathetic that the schools are that desperate for funds, but that is what it has come to. So- go if you need to, family is so important, be prepared to fight when you return, and know that you are not alone. 

    Hi! It has been a few years now, but we took our son out for more than a week for sick grandmother. We told the teacher and she prepared a package, and signed necessary forms and also told the office. Don't let them bully you into thinking they shouldn't miss school!!! And BTW, we received a few truancy letters because one teacher was so strict, she would mark them absent straightaway, and if they arrived 5/10 min late, she would not send info to office to fix it. I ignored one truancy letter (and nothing happened) because I got so fed up with it, especially since I was a very active parent and the principal saw me almost every day, volunteering, so clearly my child was not actually truant. That trip to see his grandmother was PRICELESS and so much more important than being in school. It was the last time he got to see her.... Family first!!

    Talk to your child's teacher or principal about independent study. I've known lots of families that have done it for an extended trip.

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  • Independent study: Taking 7th grader overseas for two weeks

    (4 replies)

    Do you have experience taking your middle schooler out of the country during the school year?

    What sort of preparation did you do and how was the experience overall?

    I'm taking my son to Japan for 2 weeks in early November. We are in the WCCUSD, at Korematsu.

    Thank you!

    [Moderator Note] See "Taking Kids out of School for Family Trips" for past advice about this, including a similar question from a week ago.

    If you sign up for Independent Study (go to office, get teacher's assignments, and hand them in when you get back), the school will NOT loose the daily attendance money, it will loose if you do not do this.

    We took our 7th grader to Israel for 2 weeks during the school year. He attends a private school. He/we arranged with each teacher to give a talk or slide show about a topic relevant from his trip. For Geography he spoke for 5-10 minutes about the Stalagmites we saw in a cave, in Math he talked about the steps of masada, etc. Much more educational for him and his peers than doing paperwork!

    Hi.  My best advice is to bring a kindle with a lot of already downloaded.  Reading is just as beneficial, if not more so, than doing classwork!

    Go to the office. Tell them you will be gone for two weeks and you want an independent study. Each teacher should give you work to complete the independent study requirement.  

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  • Best way to approach unexcused absence (vacation) with OUSD

    (12 replies)

    Hi Parents - My son is in first grade at an OUSD school. We are planning a vacation this winter that would require him to miss 6 school days adjacent to a single holiday, so he would be gone from school one full week, plus the following Monday and Tuesday. I feel optimistic that I can develop a good relationship with his teacher prior to the trip and that he would be allowed to make up work, but I'm unsure how to approach the absence with the school. He should have consistent attendance aside from this (although illness is impossible to predict). Will we get in trouble if we are honest and tell the school that we are taking a vacation? Or do I need to make up something about a family emergency followed by an illness? Is there any option to call it an "independent study"? I will definitely work with him on his school work while we are away. I would love advice from anyone who has successfully navigated this with OUSD. Ideally, we'd like to take a trip like this every couple of years. Thanks!

    For a trip this long, you will want to do an independent study. We did this for our son in ~3rd grade at Montclair Elementary several years ago.  It is a bit of a pain for all involved (so don't expect anyone to be very enthusiastic about it), but it is honest, the child does some work when they should be in school but can still partake in a family reunion (or whatever, but I recommend the family reunion take), and the school doesn't lose money for every day your child is away. [The school loses state money even for 'excused' absences such as a family emergencies (which has an extremely narrow definition -- even attending a funeral for what I consider to be a close relative doesn't count as excused!) and being ill.]

    OUSD family here.  I have pre-planned vacations like this with teacher.  That way the school still can receive the daily attendance $ from the state.  I get worksheets & assignments from the teacher.  In addition I have my child research & write a report on a local topic, ie, sea turtles while in Hawai'i.  

    We took my kids out of OUSD for a week when they were in 1st and 3rd grade and no one seemed too concerned about it. We told their teachers it was for a vacation; I think that's also what we told the office, but I don't remember for sure.  At that age it's not really a big deal.  Based on trips from my own childhood I was expecting an independent study packet, but I think one teacher had the kid keep a journal and the other sent a math packet, and that was it.  Do it now - once they're in middle/high school it will be nearly impossible to take them out mid-year.

    Offere to do an independent study packet while he's gone so the school doesn't lose any money due to his absence.


    we too are at an OUSD school and took off 3 days for a vacation last year. Our daughter is never absent except when sick in which we take doctors notes. When we went on vacation we were honest and her teacher was fine about it and gave her homework for the week. The office made me sign a form but I still received a truancy letter. Since she wasn't absent after that nothing else came after. I have heard that if your off for more than a week you can do independent study so look into that. 

    Yes, you can do an independent study. Just make sure your kid actually completes the work the teacher assigns and fill out all the paperwork in the office. The school won't mind because they still get paid as long as you turn in the assignments. 

    I wouldn't call it a vacation, but I'd just say that we need to be away and leave it at that.  I think you can make up the work if you are absent 5 or more days.  Ask for an Independent Study Contract. I am not sure if this is District-specific or in the CA Ed Code, but I've heard of this before.  The District does not want to lose the $$ for attendance, and I am very sure they don't want your child to be that far behind.  

    It may depend on the school, but my daughter's OUSD school turned them into excused absences if you gave enough notice so that they might put together a study plan for them. I think at Peralta it was 48 hours notice and involved collaboration with the teacher and adminstrator. If you aren't sure to talk to, maybe your PTA pres or room parent could direct you.

    Just be honest with them. We've done it a couple times. Once in elementary school it was no big deal and they were very accommodating. Last year in middle school one of the teachers got a little prickly about it but it nothing bad came of it. My daughter was able to get most of the work ahead of our vacations and be caught up by the time we returned. I was told that unexcused absences (which vacations are) don't really result in any action from the district until it becomes a pattern.

    Yeah, if you give the teacher enough lead time -- mine needed 3 weeks -- she will send him with a packet of work he can complete during the vacation so that he is "home schooled" for that week. At least that's how it works at our school (which is WCCUSD). I am terrible about this, I pull them out of school all the time! 

    Register them for independent study during that time. Give the teacher plenty of time to get the schoolwork together though.

    Yes, all you need to do is a get an independent study. We've done this several times with OUSD. Request it a few weeks in advance so the teacher has time to get the materials together. The school supports this because then they get paid for the absence. They will give you an independent study for absences between 5-20 school days. We've never had any issues. Enjoy your trip!

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Keeping my child out of school several days a year

March 2010


I am a parent of a Kindergartener and new to the the BUSD. I understand that the district does not receive money from the state if my child is not in school. (I can't find the policy online that clarifies what is consider excused.) I also have personal, family reasons to keep my child out of school several days a year. I would like to tell his teacher that he won't be there, but my sense of the system already is that that idea is a bad idea because then the school won't get the money. So do I lie and tell the administration that he is sick? Do I tell the teacher one thing and the administration another? Which puts the teacher in an awkward position. And I am utterly unwilling to coach my 6 year old to lie.

Rumor has it that at one BUSD elementary school, a parent who wants to take their child out of school for a family trip, etc. can write a check to the school for the amount of money that the school loses from the state. In my mind, this takes out the wink-wink-lying-my-kid-is-sick dynamic and recognizes the reality that families have commitments that are not at odds with their children's academic learning.

I looked on the archives and saw some conversation about taking kids out of school for months at a time and setting up independent learning. Is this an option for 3 days? Does it vary from school to school?

I'd really appreciate hearing from parents of public school students, particularly BUSD, and what their experience and thoughts are. Thanks

Three days missed? I think you are over-thinking it. I know parents who have taken their third grader to Africa for a month. Yes, tell the teacher, get some make-up work if you think it's appropriate, but there is no secret to keep. Why do you think some schools have Ski Week? It's called life. Don't worry, enjoy family time.

This is for Oakland, not Berkeley, but my understanding is that it works the same anywhere in the state.

We just took my son out of school for a week-long trip. We set up independent study with the teacher -- which essentially meant we got a bit of homework to keep up with the class, and were asked to have my son read for half an hour a day (not a problem for him), and to make a photo journal of his trip (which he loved).

We did the same for a 3-day trip when he was in first grade. The assignment was a bit less, but similar. The school then gets the money, and all is well. Karen

I believe what you are asking about is a school work contract. If you child is going to be basent for 5 school days or more, then you can work with your child's teacher (s) and develop a contract for the work the child will do while they are gone. Then when you return, you turn in the child's work, the teacher checks it and signs it off and (I believe) certifies to the school that the work was completed. In that way the school still can get credit from the state and will not lose the funds.

We have done this before when our kids were in elementary school and in middle school. It is very straight forward in elementary school, as you would only be working with one teacher (typically). Just give the teacher at least a few weeks notice.

If you child is in middle or high school (for others info) then it takes more work. Typically you would work with the person in charge of school attendance, get a form and have each teacher write out what is assigned and sign the form. The student does the work, and then when they return they get the form signed off by each teacher. Then the form is returned to the attendance office. Most teachers are very good at assigning real work that is also appropriate for traveling with. Traveling Mom

I'm not sure you got an answer to your question, which I interpreted as you wanting clarification on the reimbursement that the public schools get (or don't get) when kids are absent from school. From what I know, you are correct that schools lose a portion of the per-child reimbursement for absent children, and that if your kids are absent for five or more days, you can ask for what amounts to an ''official leave'' which then allows the school to not be penalized monetarily for your child's absence.

You can probably ask your school principal their opinion, but my feeling on this is that if you are planning a 3 day absence, it's not worth keeping your kid out of school an extra 2 days just so you can qualify for the official leave and improve the financial reimbursement situation for your school. If you feel guilty about being responsible for your school losing three child-days of reimbursement, then just donate some equivalent amount of dollars directly to your classroom or the PTA. fellow vacation lover


Taking a 6-7 months around-the-world trip

Oct 2007


We are planning a 6-7 months around-the-world trip during an upcoming sabbatical from work. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We recognize that while this will be an invaluable education and experience for us and our children, that our school district (Oakland/OUSD) may not be so excited about our plans to pull our children out of school for a while.

I was wondering if anyone has been thru a similar situation and how you navigated things with your school district, even if isn't Oakland. All advice and thoughts are welcome! We are planning to be away from Christmas through until July or August, back in time for the next school year. We hope our children will be re-admitted to their current school. We will homeschool as needed. Our children will both be in elementary school, ages between 7-10. It's now or never!

Go for it! The school district may well not be enthusiastic, but you are right when you say it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The school district will miss out on state funding for the time they are gone, and they will worry about your children's adjustment. But they may also be supportive of the travel factor. It will be important for your kids to be comfortable academically when they go back, and you know best how hard or easy it will be to catch up. I would consult with each of their teachers to get a take on how they are doing in their various academic areas. Then I would consult with home- schooling networks to get curricula for their upcoming semesters in school, and with home-schooling parents to talk about how they manage. You can work on math, reading, language arts, social sciences, science, on the road with the right information and materials. My sister home-schools and I think she just spends the mornings with her kids working on materials, then they do some work themselves in the afternoon or evening. And they'll get plenty of geography, history, and language from their travels! Have a great trip! travels with kid

I would recommend reading ''One Year Off'', a book about a Marin family that does a similar trip. We took our kids out for one month of school when they were 9 and 11, and they didn't have any problems. We're in BUSD, and if you make an ''independent study'' plan with the school, the district still gets the revenue for your child, which they like. Also in my opinion, if you're children are reasonably bright, they'll make up whatever they missed pretty quickly, and even if they didn't, the kind of trip you describe far surpasses anything they'll get in 4-5 months of school. I'm jealous! Phil

We took our son on a year long sabbatical where he attended two different schools in two countries, a camp in a third, and was schooled by us in the fourth. It was an amazing and very positive experience for him. We asked his teachers here to give us an idea of what he should be covering. We also got great help from the teachers he had while on our trip. He ended up quite a bit ahead in many academic areas, and has had an easy time in school since. I look forward to doing it again some day. I would recommend talking to his current teacher way in advance (like now) so she/he can have time to prepare a packet for you to bring along. For the times we were out beyond traditional school (and there were many of those times), we did math by adding and subtracting camels or other animals were saw, or had him write short stories about the sealife, etc. It was fun, painfree, and has had a lasting effect.

Our expeirence was that most schools are accomodating of this type of adventure. If not, then it may be time to look for a school that embraces the value of life experience a little more. Have a great trip! Mom of a worldly kid


Family trip and 13-year-old's unexcused absence

Nov 2005


I am new to the area, and my 13 year old son is attending a big public school for the first time in years. The schools he has been in before had a lot more flexability than this one (Wood Middle School in Alameda). I have an annual trip coming up (family reunion) that will mean he will miss a couple of days of school. I am feeling pressured because I do not want to lie to the school (say he is sick) but they do not give any excused absences for anything like this. I do not want to promote deceit to my son either. But I am afraid if I ask outright he will get punished in some way (don't ask don't tell?). I would so much prefer to just be up front, get his homework ahead of time & have him do extra credit or something, which is how we have handled it in the past. What should I do? sally

As far as State funding for public schools goes, it doesn't matter if a student is sick or at Disneyland -- absent is absent, no money for that student for that school. If your child will be out of school for four days or more, you must request an independent study packet. So actually, it will be better to take the trip, stay out of school for four or more days, get and complete the packet, and the school gets its money. --also planning a trip

I can imagine how the school developed its ''strict'' policy; the state pays schools for student attendance and so the school is docked when students are absent. But occasions do come up beyond one's control (family events are one category) when being somewhere other than school might be important for a child. You're not asking for two weeks, just two days. I would say that you should be up-front about it and do it your way -- ask for make-up assignments, etc. Our district still gets the money if a plan is made in advance to make up the absence, and I can't imagine that's not true for your school. occasionally reasonably truant

There is no reason why you should have to lie. It is rediculous-my daughter, (also a middle-schooler), has to miss a fair amount of school, for complicated reasons (non-medical). Sometimes it has to do with family trips. If YOU excuse your son, then they MUST excuse him. If he is punished, which he SHOULD NOT be, go to the principal at once and inform him/her that your son did not cut class, nor commit any sort of fault, and they have absolutely no grounds to punish him whatsoever. As long as he completes the work he misses, there should be no negative consequinces for him whatsoever. Julian

Hello, I am the mom of an elementary school student in Alameda and his school's policy (which I assume comes from AUSD and therefore applies to Wood School as well) is that if the student is going to be absent 6 to 10 days he can be excused and get his homeowrk ahead of time, it's called ''contracted study'' and the days out will count as attendence so the school gets their state and federal money. Hope this helps! Laura


Sabbatical Year of Travel with school-aged kids

Sept 2002


We're considering taking a sabbatical somewhere down the road (perhaps five years or so from now) and spending the academic year traveling with our two kids (who'll be about 13 and 11) - Wondering if any other parents have had such an adventure, either with your own kids or during your childhood - any pros and cons, anything big that the kids missed out on during the year abroad, any other advice greatly appreciated. We'd be traveling in Lonely Planet style. World travelers with kids in tow

When I was 11 years old, we moved from Berkeley to Chestnut Hill, MA (suburbof Boston) so my father could do a sabatical at MIT. My sister was 14 and my brother was 8 and we all LOVED it. It was an incredible learning experience. We stayed for the school year and I will always remember it. Almost every weekend we did ''enriching'' trips around the east coast. It was very educational to see how different the east coast (and in particular a place like Chestnut Hill) was from Berkeley. katherine

I spent a year abroad with my family when I was 13-14 and it was an incredibly wonderful experience that I have carried with me always (I am now in my late 30s). Going into it, of course I was worried about all the things I would miss, but I enjoyed the adventure from beginning to end (I cried much of the way home), and found that of course I hadn't missed anything at all. My school and friends were just as I'd left them. I was the one who had changed, though, and home felt really tame. When the time comes, my husband, son and I will definitely spend a sabbatical abroad. The hard part will be choosing where to go! Good luck.