Should parents be allowed to pull kids from school for vacations?
One of the most perennial, most fundamental questions to tackle during vacation planning has always been: do I take my children out of school for our Orlando trip? The pros and cons make the issue more fraught than one might otherwise assume – waiting until a school break means bigger crowds and more expensive rates for everything from airfare to hotels to theme park tickets themselves (precisely because they are school-break periods), while having kids miss school means more work (and more stress) for them as they attempt to get caught back up once they return.
The debate has taken on a new, possibly fever pitch over in the United Kingdom, where it has spilled over into the judicial system, reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. The recent ruling is not only noteworthy in and of itself, but also for its potential to influence the proceedings here in America, the theme park capital of the world.
The Guardian has the story of Jon Platt, a father who pulled his daughter out of school for a seven-day vacation in April 2015 – which his local education authority, the Isle of Wight council, fined him £60 (approximately $75) for last year. Platt appealed, with the case working its way up to the highest court in the kingdom this past January; just last week, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the Wight council, stating unequivocally that “unauthorized absences have a disruptive effect not only on the education of the individual child, but also on the work of other pupils.” Furthermore, the justices said, allowing special dispensation for some parents to take vacations whenever they’d like isn’t fair to those parents who do follow the rules, even if it means they have to pay more for their getaways as a result.
The issue has been a regularly contested one ever since 2013, when new laws were passed that significantly restricted head teachers’ abilities to grant special dispensation for leaves of absence to those students who have good attendance (without that permission, parents would have to pay a penalty for “unauthorized” absences). In the four years since, families have felt caught in the middle of being forced to pay either higher rates for their travels or fines to their schools.
Although the matter has been settled legally, it seems that it’s far from being resolved socially – or, perhaps, politically. Platt is still refusing to pay the fine – he says that the ruling means “parents would no longer be the final arbiter of what was right for their children” – and is advocating that British citizens vote in upcoming local elections to oust those politicians who have pushed for, or otherwise defended, the recent regulations.
For Americans, the real thrust of the matter will be whether this works as any type of precedent for a similar series of fines (or, eventually, rulings) that will be attempted on this side of the pond. Although the two countries have a great number of socio-political differences, they have remained culturally linked for the past four hundred years – something which the theme park operators are no doubt keenly aware of at the present moment, as they keep one eye on their attendance figures and the other on their profit margins.