Greener BeeGreen HolidaysTaking cheaper holidays during the school term deemed ‘unjustifiable’ by schools

Ko'Olina beach in Oahu, Hawaii. FILE PHOTO

Ko’Olina beach in Oahu, Hawaii. FILE PHOTO

Thousands of parents are taking ‘cheaper’ holidays during the school term, and it doesn’t appear as though the Ministry of Education can do anything to stop them.

Ministry figures show that an estimated 23,000 school pupils in New Zealand go on holiday during each school term. 

Hamilton mother-of-two Karina Green is furious at the school her 9-year-old child attends after the principal informed her that her absence during the school term would be marked as “unjustified”.

Green took advantage of the considerably cheaper airfares during the school term to take her family on a nine-day excursion to Hawaii at the end of last month.

“I was suitably outraged because I’m a good parent, and to be able to take my children on a holiday like that is a privilege.”

But although the Ministry of Education says it won’t fine parents for doing so, several parents have been prosecuted for “persistent truancy ” after absences of longer than 20 consecutive days.

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Last week in the UK, an English father lost a Supreme Court case fighting against authorities fining him for taking his daughter to Florida during term time. 

Comparing the prices of flights during and after the school holidays have revealed that its much cheaper to take a holiday during the school term.

Airfare data from webjet.co.nz shows as much as a 71 per cent premium for a family of four flying in the second week of the winter holidays compared with the first week back in the third school term.

Direct flights connecting Auckland and Queenstown, Christchurch and the Gold Coast, Wellington and Sydney, Auckland and Nadi, and Auckland and London all showed increased demand had swollen prices by anywhere between 26.9 and 71.8 per cent.

For a family of four going to London it equates to $1926 – the equivalent of another adults return airfare. A short direct hop between Wellington and Sydney saw a $1176 jump in prices by selecting flights within the school holidays.

The Ministry of Education has confirmed that they have never fined or prosecuted any parents for taking their children on holidays during the school term.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Katrina Casey said taking students out of school during term-time for holidays “isn’t something we support, because it can affect how well they learn and progress”.

“Prosecution through the courts for chronic or long-term truancy is always a last resort. It is more important to get a student back to school. Prosecution does not take place for occasional absences, such as a holiday,” said Casey.

Green said while continued absences from school for things such as holidays should not be accepted, a once-off holiday, especially one with considerable educational content like their one, should not be discouraged.

Green did not want to name the school as she had not yet given its Board of Trustees the chance to respond, but said it had a strict policy for absences.

Overseas holidays were reserved only for funerals or weddings, but families travelling that far for such an event would probably add a few extra days anyway to make the most of the trip, she said.

“As a hard-working parent who was lucky enough to be able to afford that, to be told it was unjustified was a slap in the face,” said Green.

She felt parents were made to feel guilty by schools for taking their children overseas during term time, and knew of other parents who simply claimed their children were sick.

Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president Kevin Bush said he was not aware of any parents being fined for taking their kids out of school.

“It’s a catch 22 really. Someone needs to work while we’re on holiday and unfortunately some parents have no but to take their holiday during the school term, but its never good to miss school,” said Bush.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act showed there were just seven prosecution cases by the ministry for “chronic” non-attendance in 2014, and only four in 2015.

DLA Piper law firm partner John Hannan, who has experience in education law, said prosecution cases were “exceedingly rare” and issues were usually resolved between parents and schools.

“I certainly haven’t come across it much.

“I don’t think schools or the Ministry of Education are that likely to let these situations develop to the point where prosecutions are brought and fines imposed.”

Prosecutions could also be brought if parents home schooled their children without getting an exemption, Hannan said.


 – Sunday Star Times

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