Father Admonished by Principal For Unexcused Absence of His Children From School — and Here is Why…

ichael Rossi finally realized his lifelong dream to run in the Boston Marathon; and he wanted his children — twins who are nine years old — to be there to witness that special moment in his life. Because his family resides in Pennsylvania approximately 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia and approximately 300 miles southeast of Boston, this called for an extended weekend trip which meant missing three days of school.

Rochelle Marbury — the principal of the school in which the children of Michael Rossi attend — had a different viewpoint, basically calling the trip an unexcused absence of his children from school in this note which she sent to him:

Photograph ©2015 by Michael Rossi.

Photograph ©2015 by Michael Rossi. Please click on the photograph for an enlarged version.

This is how Michael Rossi replied to the principal:

Dear Madam Principal,

While I appreciate your concern for our children’s education, I can promise you they learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school.

Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book. 

In the 3 days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history culinary arts and physical education. 

They watched their father overcome, injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal. 

They also experienced first-hand the love and support of thousands of others cheering on people with a common goal. 

At the marathon, they watched blind runners, runners with prosthetic limbs and debilitating diseases and people running to raise money for great causes run in the most prestigious and historic marathon in the world.  

They also paid tribute to the victims of a senseless act of terrorism and learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit.

These are things they won’t ever truly learn in the classroom. 

In addition our children walked the Freedom Trail, visited the site of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre and the graves of several signers of the Declaration of Independence.

These are things they WILL learn in school a year or more from now. So in actuality our children are ahead of the game. 

They also visited an aquarium, sampled great cuisine and spent many hours of physical activity walking and swimming. 

We appreciate the efforts of the wonderful teachers and staff and cherish the education they are receiving at Rydal Elementary School. We truly love our school.

But I wouldn’t hesitate to pull them out of school again for an experience like the one they had this past week. 

Thank you for your time.  

Michael Rossi

I have long espoused and clearly stated the following sentiment in multiple articles which I have written in the past — such as in this one where I discuss indulging in passion

For me, travel offers more of an experience and an education than anything else of which I can think — documentaries, books, classrooms — and there are an endless number of places around the world from which one can never truly experience or learn in the United States.

…so it should be no surprise that I completely concur with Michael Rossi and his logic pertaining to this issue. He indulged in a passion and wanted his family to be there when he did so. What was he supposed to do — wait until his children were adults? Leave his children at home with a babysitter? Hope that the Boston Marathon was scheduled on a weekend where schools would be officially closed during the weekdays surrounding that weekend?

This is not a father who irresponsibly took his children out of school for two weeks so that they may lie in the sun out on a beach somewhere. This is a man who wanted to live a dream…

…and while I respect school teachers — my aunt is a retired school teacher who taught classes in schools in some of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn before she moved to Long Island to continue her career as a public school educator — the current classroom environment has not been perfected to the point where missing three days of school is a calamity.

I get it that missing days of school can cause problems for teachers, which I certainly do not want to happen. I get it that the principal was following the policy of the school district. However, schools exist primarily for the benefit of the children. They are there for children to learn; but they are far from the educational utopia that they are the only venue in which children can be educated…

…and while I believe that children can learn far more about certain aspects of the world by traveling rather than by sitting in a classroom, I also believe that parents should not pull children out of school unless there is a good reason to do so…

…and I believe that Michael Rossi should not have to justify this particular trip — not that three days of unexcused absences are going to profoundly affect his children for the rest of their lives.

Congratulations to you on running in the Boston Marathon, Michael Rossi. You gave your children a memory which they will cherish for the rest of their lives; and I am certain that they and your wife are proud of you.

What are your thoughts? Should Michael Rossi have foregone having his children travel to Boston to attend the marathon in which he was running; or was he justified in taking them out of school for three days?

All photographs ©2015 by Michael Rossi. Additional information and photographs can be accessed from the official Facebook Internet web site of Michael Rossi by clicking here.

20 thoughts on “Father Admonished by Principal For Unexcused Absence of His Children From School — and Here is Why…”

  1. Aaron K says:

    I think the principle was just doing her job and making the parents aware that those would not be excused absences. And I actually think the parents reply was over elaborate and self serving. The way this should have played out is…The principle sends the warning note the the parents. The parents read it and say “yep, we are aware they are unexcused and it is important to us to take them anyway” and be done with it.

    1. So agreed. It was a jerk move on the dad’s part.

  2. Weston says:

    As a teacher, I understand that students sometimes have things bigger than school in their lives. I completely support parents in their decision to take their kids out of school in alignment with their priorities. I am excited for my students when they have the opportunity to do amazing things like this.

    That being said, it doesn’t make the absence excused, according to this school’s policy. The administrator did not “shame” the father, she merely let him know that the absence would not be excused, as per policy. Nowhere did the principal say that the students were worse off or that the father was a bad parent for taking them on the trip.

    I fail to understand the rationale behind the response–I think the principal would be in full agreement with the father’s letter, and I don’t understand why it had to be written in an antagonistic tone. Much learning can only be done outside the classroom, but there are laws that require children to be in school. If parents want to take their kids out of school (again, a completely fine thing to do!), the school letting them know that the absence is unexcused per policy is not only OK, it’s actually a good thing to do.

    Someone was trying to make news…

  3. Vicente says:

    Don’t blame the principal, this is the common output of school systems everywhere. They are stating a fact that is the result of policy. No Child Left Behind and similar initiatives all tie MONEY (funding) to attendance. Days in which your child are not in school, represents funding they get reduced by. Naturally the district will have a policy about this. Things were much looser when I was a kid, because we didn’t count and measure every damn bean.

    Personally if my kid is out a few days, I call in sick. Schools still get paid for that. If it’s longer, I apply for an excused absence where we do homework and turn it in after returning from the trip.

  4. Santastico says:

    Principal was acting like many Americans do: By the book!!!! Many Americans need to learn how to be a little more flexible and not run their lives as it was written in a guide 300 years ago. I agree 200% with the father and would and actually do the same. The principal should have talked to the parents to understand the reason the kids would miss school. I understand she cannot allow all kids to miss class for no reason but here there was a clear reason. In my case, my two kids are at the top (if not the #1) of their classes and are way ahead of many other kids in terms of education from life. At ages of 9 and 6, they are fortunate enough to speak 3 languages fluently just because we speak 3 languages at home. They’ve been fortunate to visit many countries, eat all sorts of different foods and learn about history like no school will ever teach. Thus, every time we need the kids to miss classes we just let the teachers and principal to know in advance and make sure they get any homework or test done prior or during that trip. We never had any issues and never needed to get a “copied and pasted” letter like this father got from the principal.

  5. Ben says:

    To be honest with all of you, I only understood what the principal’s letter was supposed to represent (i.e., purely a formality, automatic response sort of) after reading the comments.
    Without the benefit of the comments it indeed sounded unnecessary and paternalistic. My initial reaction (once again, without having as much context as you have) was to think: interesting times when a father has to remind a principal that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children…
    I am willing to give Mr. Rossi the benefit of the doubt (even though I find his response excessively dramatic).

  6. Taylor says:

    I remember being in 5th grade and preparing to travel to Germany for a month with my family. When my parents told the teacher, he responded: “But you’re going to miss our whole Egypt unit!”

  7. TravelingMan says:

    The principal did not admonish the parent. It was likely just a standard follow up to a family vacation absence. I have to do this type of thing often. These emails/letters are quick for me. I generally copy/paste the text and send it off.

    Policy is policy, and is decided at a level above principals. I can’t figure out how this is at all an admonishment. It is just documenting an unexcused absence.

  8. Stephen A. says:

    The principal did Procrustes proud (although she probably does not know about this son of Poseidon). Unfortunately we expect our public employees to act this way (treat all things the same no matter what the circumstances) and then condemn them when they do.

  9. To hell with the policy! There isn’t really much else to say.

  10. Bret says:

    As a teacher., I’ve noticed an uptick in family vacation time during school days in the past five years or so. While this trip seems extremely valuable, most families freely admit they are taking school days off for a more typical family vacation. Many don’t want to take this vacation during the week of a break because of the excessive cost of airfare during the scheduled breaks, which I totally understand – I’ve been paying a premium in airfare for decades.

    Nevertheless, I teach multiple families who pull their kids out for routine vacations 3-4 times per year for up to a week each, and it definitely leaves an impact on their educational progress. A homework packet cannot recreate the discussions, conferences, problem solving, and critical thinking that requires a classroom, a roomful of students, and a teacher facilitating the experience.

    Most families are aware of the importance of attending school, and tend not to pull their kids out very often, and this family seems like one of them. Policies like this, however, are in place because of an increase of families who are pulling their students out for a larger and larger chunk of the school year. And yes, that can affect funding.

    If I were this Dad, I would just accept the letter for what it is and move on. The self serving tone is a bit much. Of course the school is going to stick to its policy, as it should. Of course he pulled the students out, as he should.

  11. Vicente says:

    The ignorance of the parents, and some of the commenters, is appalling.

    I got one of these early in our Son’s kindergarten year. I asked school office staff what I should do, and they said “recycle it, it’s just a letter we are required to send out.” If you have a trip with educational valued, fill out the Travel Study form and make it an excused absence. How hard is that?

    These folks take a form letter and decide to get nasty about it. The people needing some education here are the parents. Need some manners to boot, airing their grievances over such a minor dispute publicly.

  12. David says:

    This is probably a standard letter that goes out regardless. When you’re in a policy role, the rule is equal treatment. The letter was clear that the school does not evaluate whether a trip was “worthwhile” or not. Nor should it. Where should a school draw the line? What about a trip to Europe for a week? What if they stopped at Aushwitz one day? What if it was just to see an elderly relative? Can you imagine the battles if schools had to judge whether to excuse an absence? It would be a nightmare. The letter gave a warning that “an accumulation” of absences will have consequences and no judgment was made on this one. The letter makes a cute story on the web but really should have been a non-story.

  13. Rose says:

    Wait, doesn’t anyone think this dad sounds like a total freaking idiot? His kids learned more in five days than a year in school whaaa?

    Just what did they “learn” that was so valuable? “Culinary arts” and “physical education”? Meaning they ate at a restaurant and walked around the city?

    Or was it the part where they “learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit”? Yes, how could society advance without our children reciting patriotic platitudes?

    They “watched their father overcome, injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.” So… they “learned” their dad is tops? Or “never give up” or whatever?

    Does anyone else suspect that this guy hasn’t really wrapped his head around what “learning” means, in an educational context?

    I don’t think, as one earlier commenter suggested, that parents are ultimately responsible for a child’s education. An educated citizenry is a social value, and thus, a kid’s education is a societal responsibility.

    In fact, I can think of no better argument against parents having “ultimate responsibility” for their kids’ education than guys who think eating in restaurants and internalizing nationalistic slogans is more valuable than, say, reading a book or learning math.

    1. Rich says:

      I couldn’t agree more with Rose. Visiting historic sites is not the same as learning history in context; and the rest is nonsense (“culinary arts”?!) and platitudes.

      This father thinks the kids learn more in five days’ vacation than in a year of school? Why doesn’t he take them on vacation for 60 days and then encourage them to apply to college?

      1. Ben says:

        As people are responding to an argument I made, I feel the need to clarify (and I apologize if I don’t come across clearly, but English is not my first language).
        My comment on responsibility of education was a reaction to the principal’s letter taken out of context (i.e., not understanding it was a copy/paste beaurocratic form), independently from this guy’s response.
        As a father that agrees on the value of school, reading a book or learning math (to quote Rose), I still disagree that “kid’s education is a societal responsibility”. Hard to have a nuanced discussion in the comment section, but while I believe that school and society have an important role, I also believe that the family remains a central institution in the development of kids, and should enjoy a certain degree of autonomy.
        I would not generalize this guy’s letter, as one example of somebody that makes bad use of this autonomy can be counterbalanced by somebody making great use of it (e.g., a home schooling family that help their child to excel).

  14. JEM says:

    Part of a good American education SHOULD involve “when to ignore a standard form letter.”

    Dad needs remediation.

  15. Wendy says:

    This is the reason if I had school age children they would be home schooled. I know I learned more than in a week of vacation with my parents than I did in a week of school. I always went back to school with my assigneed home work complete including extra work that Dad believed would help me in all subjects. I may have been on vacation but I always spent 3 or 4 hours each day on school work.

    Spending time learning in depth of other areas of the United States and Canada helped me become a better student in High School and University. In high school I took a class where we studied several areas in depth. We studied Canada, the Soviet Union, Japan and the Bermuda triangle. My family vacations to Canada helped me write an in depth report about parts of Ontario that other students were unable to do from a personal point of view including photos of places I was writing about.

    These children will be able to use the information from the Boston trip to help attain academic success years down the road.

  16. thehawk75 says:

    Interesting the number piling on the Dad here, and dissecting the Dad’s response for such items as ‘culinary arts’, ‘physical education’ and ‘terrorists can not deter the American spirit’.

    But, in the same vein, why not dissect said so-called ‘innocent form letter’ ?

    Especially the last sentence:

    “An accumulation of unexcused absences can result in a referral to our attendance officer and a subsequent notice of a violation of the compulsory school attendance law”

    Is that not so veiled threat?

    Why is it for 3 unexcused absences we now have a bureaucrat inviting harm upon this family? Why not add: ‘…violation of compulsory school attendance law, which can result in a fine of $300, being sent to “parenting education” classes and 5 days in jail. In addition child protective services can seize your children and putting them into foster care.’ After all, that is what this means (http://bit.ly/1EE3ZYj)

    Whatever happened to simply reaching out to the parent in a neutral and helpful manner? Perhaps highlight how this affects class progress, and puts additional pressure on both the teacher and said children? Why instead the authoritarian approach? Why the reminder that you and your children are chattel to the State, and that a bureaucrat has the final say on your children’s well being?

  17. PSL says:

    If this happened just once in his children’s school careers, then Mr. Rossi has a point. Unfortunately, too many parents think nothing of taking their kids out of school for a week every spring to go to Disney World, because it’s less crowded and airfare and hotels are cheaper than during school holidays. Also, ask any veteran teacher in an affluent suburb and they will tell you that pulling kids out of school several days before and after scheduled school breaks has become epidemic over the past 20 years.

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