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Dear Lenore: My fourth grader has already missed two days of school because he had a sore throat. We are going on vacation for a week at the end of September — it’s the only time my husband could get off from work. Should I be concerned about attendance?

Yes, you should! All research supports the obvious: more time in the classroom means more learning. Missing class puts children behind in homework, reinforcement of concepts already learned, and critical instruction on new topics.

First, let’s address the sore throat. I remember once sitting in front of an open window on a winter day trying to get sick in order to stay home from school. Did your son have a temperature? Has he been getting enough sleep? Is he happy with his teacher and his classmates or is there some drama at school that’s making him resistant to going?

If he frequently doesn’t feel well, you might want to visit the family doctor. You could also establish some family expectations; for example, if he’s not vomiting, running to the bathroom, or running a temperature, he goes to school. The school office will call you if he feels worse later in the day. Sometimes kids just have a hard time getting started in the morning. Of course, you know your child and if he needed to stay home to feel better, it is an excused absence. Just make sure you call the school’s attendance line to report him ill.

Now let’s address the vacation. Scheduling a vacation during the school year is most unwise. You can look at the calendar for the whole school year and plan a trip during school breaks or overlapping one of the long weekends so time missed is minimal.

Except for religious holidays, illness, medical appointments and funerals of an immediate family member, absences from school are not excused. Technically this means that it is at the teacher’s discretion to allow the work missed to be made up for credit. Three or more unexcused absences constitute truancy under California law. So that means that a week missed on vacation makes your son a truant.

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On the fourth absence without valid excuse, you will be invited to attend a meeting of the School Attendance Review Board, consisting of various school representatives, to help solve the problem. Repeated truancy can result in a referral to juvenile court, or the filing of a criminal complaint resulting in court-ordered counseling, a fine, or worse.

There is one thing you can do if your family vacation can’t be changed — ask the principal if your son can do an independent study packet while you are away. This might be one way to keep him engaged academically and avoid the stigma of unexcused absences, but must be planned far in advance and may not be available at every school

One last note on absences:Pplease don’t send your children to school when they have temperatures. That just increases the likelihood of spreading a cold or other illness to classmates. School personnel request that sick students stay at home until they are fever-free for twenty-four hours. Have a healthy school year

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.

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