Hate mail. Nasty grams. Just a couple of terms my friends use to describe the not-so-nice letters we receive from the school district when our children have missed school due to vacations, for sports competitions, to visit family, or basically any reason that does not have a doctor’s note accompanied with it. So I have a little rage against the school attendance policy.
School Attendance Policy
I was used to a more lenient policy in Virginia. I would still let the teachers know ahead of time that we were going on vacation, and they usually told me to have a great time! If I picked them a little early from school, it was counted as an early dismissal, not as an absence. So Texas was a bit of a shock. I had to submit a form with the dates we would be out of town and provide an explanation as to why we possibly couldn’t take this vacation another time. So I did, they would say thanks, still count the absences as unexcused and then I would get a nasty gram. I got used to it.
Well then they went and changed things again on me. I took my kids out of school for 4 days and got the hate mail.
This was my Facebook status from September 2015.
I thought we had an understanding, Frisco ISD. 5 unexcused absences before the letters start. So I only took the kids out for 4. I feel robbed of my extra vacation day now. Last year you sent me letters, we laughed, we joked, we carried on while my children continued to make straight A’s in their classes. This year though, it has started earlier. The letters come after 3 unexcused absences. Ok, I know the drill. It was my decision to take my children on vacation to a conference that was designed to promote family togetherness. Something I value more than the 4 days of school they missed, especially since my oldest daughter has started middle school which can be a tough time.
Laughing and creating memories and solidifying that bond we have as a family will help her get through those tough times and give her the courage to stand up to bullies and come to the defense of those who need a friend, because she knows without a doubt that her family supports her. But now the phone calls from 2 different schools, a teacher and vice principal and an attendance action plan just wastes my time and theirs.
I feel bad for the administrators that have to have these uncomfortable conversations, because they, and you, know where we were, since I completed and turned in the form requiring me to inform you in advance of the vacation. They are not really concerned with my children’s attendance and their education, because they are good students. So please, stop with the absurdity of these letters and phone calls. These teachers and administrators have more important things to do with their time. And frankly so do I. So now I’m about to get my Johnny Letter on to all the appropriate administrators and politicians. But it’s so sad to think about the good times, you and I.. ‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood.
Nasty Gram from the School
So I was a little ragey and sarcastic in this status, but I was just fed up. And then recently, the letters after 7 days of absences came. Well first there were the phone calls. Oh the phone calls. The ones where the vice principals have to call me and say, “So I’m just calling to tell you you’re going to get a strongly worded letter coming to the house with your child….”
Seriously, if you have to preface the letter with the phone call, then perhaps the letter should be changed. The letter says, “Under Texas Education Code 25.093, a parent can be charged with parent contributing to non-attendance if a student has unexcused absences for 10 days or parts of days in a six month period. Tardiness is considered part of a school day. As you know, it is the responsibility of the parent to monitor their child’s attendance. As a reminder, according to Texas Education Code 25.093 a parent is subject to prosecution when his/her child fails to attend school regularly.
This letter is a required notification to inform you that charges may be filed against you if unexcused absences continue to occur. Regular and punctual attendance is critical to school success and we want to work with you to keep your child on track in obtaining his/her education. ”
Phone Call from the School
So since I’m assuming by the wording of the letter, they are concerned with my child’s success in school, I ask, “Are you concerned with my child’s success in school?”
Assistant Principal: “No, she’s a great student!” (Applies to the 4 children I have in public school)
Assistant Principal: “We just have to send this letter by law and come up with an attendance plan.”
Me: “The plan is if my daughter continues to do well in school, I will continue to take her out as long as it does not interfere with her education.”
Assistant Principal: ……
I’m not trying to be a jerk face, but this kind of stuff makes me stabby. I know there are people who will abuse the system. I’m sure there are children who are really truant, and there has to be a system in place. But the policy just gets a little out of control. I didn’t take my children on another vacation. Well we did go visit family for Thanksgiving, but they missed one day. The problem is like the letters say, tardiness is considered part of a school day. So if my child is late 5 minutes to school, that tardy counts toward the 3, 7, etc. unexcused absences.
Literally 5 minutes. One time my husband took 3 of my kids to school in the morning. My Kindergartner was having a bad morning (probably because I was yelling at her to hurry up so she wouldn’t be late and get an unexcused absence). Well she was crying in the car on the way to school, so he dropped off the other 2, parked and calmed her down. Then he walked her into school..after the bell rang. So she was signed in 5 minutes late to school. That counted as an absence even though it was a tardy.
I’d be more accepting of a letter that said, “Dear Mrs. Lamb, could you all get your crap together enough to not be tardy to school?” Because that’s something I can agree with. But please don’t feed me the line about being concerned about my child’s success when she’s obviously succeeding in school.
Another time we had to pick up my middle schooler 10 minutes early from school to catch a flight. We had to get a jump on the carpool line. So a 10-minute early dismissal with no doctor’s note also counts as an absence. Not sure why, because she was there in school pretty much the entire day. Makes no dang sense.
What is the Purpose of Truancy Letters?
Now let’s be honest, what it all comes down to is funding. You need my kid in school to get funding. I am grateful for the excellent extra curricular programs and electives in the district. However it’s a little hard for me to feel that sorry for you when you build your high schools the size of small colleges and stick a Starbucks in there. Because that’s totally what high-school students need in school. A Starbucks.
I’m not even going to get into it about all the focus on that one STAAR Test. You know, the one you basically spend most of the year making the kids study for? The pre-tests, the practice tests, the pre-practice tests. Insert my side-eye here. But I’m also that mom who thinks kids should have like 4 recesses a day.
I have no beef with the teachers. They’re great! I feel bad for them, in fact. It’s hard work to be a teacher. They have enough to deal with and then add in the politics and crazy parents like me. Even the administrators are just doing their job, but I get the impression that some of them don’t understand it either and are uncomfortable making the phone calls.
I’m happy to play by the rules, if someone could explain them to me. If my child was ever struggling in school or if her teacher ever told me I was putting too much burden on her with make-up work, then end of story. I would not take her out. I just ask for some common sense and courtesy, and I’m happy to return the same. Until then, I’ll see you in court, I guess. But at least I’ll have this guy to bail me out.
ETA: I never made it to court, thank goodness, and I moved out of the district.
ETA: So we moved back to Virginia. It’s been a horrible winter, so between my 5 kids, some had the flu, some had ear infections, some had strep, some had the stomach bug for a couple of days. Can I just say how nice it’s been to not stress about getting these nasty letters? I call the school, tell them the reason my kids are sick, and they make up their work. I don’t have to take them to the doctor every.single.time. just to have an excused absence if they miss a day. Those copays add up.