Some Harford County parents think a proposed five-day limit on excused absences for family vacations, which has been proposed by a county school committee, is too strict.
Patricia Jones plans to take her children, two first-graders, a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader, out of school for six days in November so that the family can accompany her husband, an insurance broker, on a business trip to Europe.
Under the proposed five-day limit, her children's sixth day out of school would not be excused. Students are not to be allowed to make up tests, homework or other work they miss when they are absent without an excuse.
Her family's vacation plans won't change because of the recommended policy, she said, but "this won't be taken lightly, and their work will be made up."
Mrs. Jones was one of three parents who objected to the stricter vacation policy at the Harford school board meeting Monday.
A committee of principals, parents and students recommended the vacation restriction and other stricter attendance policies to the board.
If adopted, the policy will send the message to students and parents that attendance is important, said William M. Ekey, Bel Air High School principal and committee co-chairman.
"With our present policy, kids can be absent a lot of times without much in the way of consequences or impact," he said.
The proposed policy would require parents to request excused absences in writing at least 10 days in advance. Principals could review a student's academic and attendance records in deciding whether to excuse the vacation absence.
Principals should also have uniform guidelines for approving or denying vacation requests, board member Thomas D. Hess
said. But principals would not start banning family vacations during the school year, said James B. Dryden, principal of Youth's Benefit Elementary School and co-chairman of the committee.
"In real practice, we will not say no," Mr. Dryden said. "The parents will merely be informed" that any vacation days over the five-day limit would be counted as unexcused.
Students at Youth's Benefit missed 738 days for family vacations in the 1993-1994 school year, and the number of such missed days has increased steadily over the years, Mr. Dryden said.
"Most of the letters [requesting excused absences] come to me after airline tickets have been purchased, hotel reservations have been made," he said.
Some parents have no choice about when to take their families on vacation, said board member Richard W. Daub Jr.
"It's going to be tough on certain students and on their families," he said. "I'm one of those parents who is stuck." Mr. Daub said that because of his low job seniority at Bethlehem Steel Corp., he can take a vacation only in April or October.
Another proposed change to the attendance policy would cost a high school student credit for a semester course after five unexcused absences and credit for a yearlong course after 11 unexcused absences. The current policy allows up to 15 unexcused absences in a semester course and up to 29 unexcused absences in a yearlong course.
An elementary or middle school student who missed 20 days by the end of the third quarter, which ends in April, could be held back a year.
The policy would allow principals to waive the consequences of too many absences, and parents would be permitted to appeal decisions. The school board is expected to vote on the recommendations at its June 12 meeting.