Swiss Saturday: Fines for Taking Your Kid on Vacation a Day Early

Last week the New York Times ran an article, Skipping School for Cheap Flights? You Could be Fined In Germany. It begins as follows:

BERLIN — While airport security officials around the world check for weapons and identification before letting passengers board a plane, the police in Germany are checking for school-age children — and reporting families who take their youngsters on vacation without a teacher’s authorization.

Before school ended on Friday for the two-week spring vacation in Bavaria, officers caught 21 families allowing their children to play hooky, the police confirmed on Wednesday.

Offending parents were reported to the school and to the local authorities. In Bavaria, that could mean a fine as high as 1,000 euros, or about $1,200, in the mail that piled up during a trip.

Schools don’t want your children to miss school and especially not on the days right before a holiday.

Swiss schools (at least in my region) have the same policy.

Now, I will say that my son’s teachers have been very accommodating with us. We took my son out for two days (a Thursday and Friday) to go to his Aunt’s wedding in Turkey And a couple of years ago, he missed the last two days of school to travel to a family reunion in the United States. (The reunion started on Saturday, but I explained to the teacher that I wanted to fly out on Thursday so we had a day to recover from the flight before driving an additional three hours to the reunion.)

In both cases, we filled out the forms and the teacher approved them.

The schools my son has attended has an allotment of “Joker” days, which are days you can pull your kid out of school for whatever reason. He’s changed schools this year, so I don’t know if his new school has the same thing. His old one allowed two full days (or 4 half days).

If you want more than that, the approval process is much more difficult. People get approvals, of course, but if you don’t, you will be fined. One acquaintance was fined 2000 francs (about $2000, give or take). They appealed and got it lowered to 500 francs.

Now, I’m all in favor of kids not missing school. But never in my schooling experience, either as a student or as the parent of a student in three different school systems in two different countries, has the last day of school ever involved academic anything. There’s no reason to require a student to attend the last day of school except because we can.

It appears Germany takes this far more seriously than Switzerland does. No one at the airport checks for vacation times. Of course, our local airport serves a community with a large expat population who attend private schools that don’t have the same rules. Maybe if I presented Swiss passports at passport control they’d ask if we had permission from the school to be out.

This is one of the things I don’t like about the Swiss school system. The level of control. In our canton, homeschooling is also illegal unless the parent teaching has an education license. (Not all cantons have the same rule.) In neighboring Germany, homeschooling is flat out illegal. Period.

While homeschooling would never by my first choice for my children, I know some moms who do amazing jobs homeschooling their children. I also know some who did a totally craptastic job–but thankfully they eventually realized their own ineptitude and put their kids back in school. I do think parents should have that right.

I also think that missing a few days here and there isn’t a big deal. I like the Joker Day system.

How do your children’s schools handle absence requests for family vacations?

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9 thoughts on “Swiss Saturday: Fines for Taking Your Kid on Vacation a Day Early

  1. Agreed. Here in California, the last week is about parties and field trips and cleaning out desks. My kid was an A student and attended private schools. Missing school was a huge treat, and not something we did often, but we did it without fear of repercussion.

  2. Some states in the US fund public schools by attendance. That is, if a student is not in school for a day, the school does not get that day’s money for the student. Yet the school’s expenses continue. I can see why these schools would get a little touchy about absences.

  3. Aside from Germany (and others) making home-schooling illegal; I agree with getting permission to remove your kids from school – even for a day. After all, the tax payers are paying for someone’s kids’ education isn’t it reasonable to expect the parent to make sure they are following all of the school’s rules to get that kids’ education as well?

    1. No. The parents are paying just as much as anyone else. And the fact that the government is handling the distribution of education does not mean that it gets to dictate every detail of of every child’s education. There are a lot of things that are very individual, and which are in the parent’s purview.

  4. Apparently most commenting here, don’t take their children out of school excessively, but there are parents who do, and usually, these students need to stay in school to achieve the grade performance skills in basic school skills (reading, writing, and math). Most parents who have achieved schooling beyond high school will strive hard to make their children attend school, even if it means they do school work on those days they take children out of school for extended holidays.
    But if you are dealing with parents with little education skills, they don’t see the value of keeping the child in school during times they need them home either for assisted childcare for younger siblings or to actually work with the parents. Where I live (New York), we get students who are brought back and forth from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico depending on the time of the year. The time period spent in school here varies depending on how long they are taken back to those places I mentioned above. Being that the two school systems are entirely different with less emphasis on (reading, writing, and math) and the going back and forth between the two systems doesn’t help the children learn.
    Having a system in place that makes the teacher part of the decision on whether removal from school is permitted is a very viable option. I wish they would extend that everywhere through grade 12 to eliminate dropouts from school. There’s plenty of ways to get around physical presence in school as long as eventually, the children achieve the basic learning skills.
    There’s no reason in this time period for a whole group of people to not have these skills.

    1. It’s one thing to focus on kids who are not managing to get their learning done. Fining the parents is not going to work, though. It’s been tried.

      There is actually a lot of evidence on what DOES work, and it’s not teachers trying to micromanage parents’ decisions. Parent education and outreach, practiced with some basic respect DOES work.

      As for the issue of kids who are going back and forth, the idea that you are going to force parents to NOT travel, or to leave their kids behind (with whom!?) is a recipe for trouble.

  5. US teacher. I feel like these policies are pretty strict but overall not a bad thing. Elementary doesn’t take final exams, middle and high school do. I have had MANY students miss their finals for family vacations, oversleeping, or whatever. In fact, in over 10 years of teaching I’ve never had a round of semester finals where NO ONE missed. Kids who miss finals can make them up, but how well do you think they’ll do? Plus, I’m required to enter zeroes and then I have to adjust the grade later on – more BS paperwork on top of the mounds I already deal with. And the general attitude of parents is that they are entitled to make outrageous demands regardless of the reason for the absence. This is just kids who miss at the end of a semester. Lax attendance “policies” and lack of funding for truancy courts make this a true downward spiral. Kids miss four weeks to visit family out of the country and we as teachers MUST give alternative/actual assignments all in advance (I usually have no idea what I’m doing four weeks in advance, because next week’s lessons depend on the mastery of last week’s content). The bottom line is that it is PROVEN that attendanxe is crucial to academic success. And we all hear constant refrain about public ed being broken in the US and sooo much better in other countries. Maybe if we took things just as seriously we would see fewer cases of educational neglect and more of my 7th graders would come to me reading at grade level!

  6. I had no idea the Swiss were so strict, I don’t have kids myself, but I have friends who do and I think I will ask them… it might be different here in the French-speaking cantons, I noticed that people here tend to be less strict and rely on common sense a lot.

  7. I don’t agree with a ban on homeschooling but it needs to be monitored. This is to ensure that education of a reasonable standard is taking place but, more importantly, to ensure that homeschooling isn’t being used to cover up abuse. Schools are at the frontline of safeguarding children.

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