MilKids: Don’t Take Them Out of School


My mom used to let me play hooky from school. Not a lot. And only if I had good grades and my attendance was otherwise acceptable. But every now and then I got to skip school for a mommy/daughter mental health day.

I’m pretty sure I’m not suffering from any negative long-term effects from those missed days of school. I don’t think my education suffered, nor was my academic achievement compromised. However, it was only a day here and there, not weeks at a time. And I wasn’t a military brat who would attend 6 to 9 schools by the time I graduated from high school.

A few weeks ago at the AUSA conference, I listened to Marilee Fitzgerald, Director of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) talk about the academic challenges military children face and the things parents can do to help ease those challenges. And one of the things she was very emphatic about was attendance.

“They’re in school for a very short period of time in their life,” she said. “You can’t just pull them out. A day here, a day there, not a problem. But we have to think about attendance rate.”

I get it. I get that attendance is necessary for academic success. I get that we as parents need to provide as much stability for our children as we possibly can in such an unstable lifestyle. I get that pulling the kids out of school for a week to go on vacation is disruptive and probably not the best idea. But, you know what? We gotta do what we gotta do. And sometimes, what we gotta do is pull our kids out of school.

“Holidays, recess periods, the Mona Lisa looks just as good,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said. Sure, the Mona Lisa isn’t going to change whether you see it on a school day or during Christmas vacation, so why not wait for a scheduled school break instead of skipping school? Because, for some families, it will look different if they wait until Christmas vacation. By then daddy will be deployed, and vacation just isn’t the same when your family isn’t complete.

Military spouses have to create family time however we can. Do I want my children to miss school? Of course not. But if their dad is about to deploy, and we’re presented with the opportunity to spend a week of uninterrupted time together, I’m going to take it. I’ll request homework from the teachers, I’ll pack a library’s worth of books, I’ll practice times tables and recite the alphabet until I’m blue in the face. But I’m not going to feel guilty about my children’s school absences.

As a former kindergarten teacher, I’ve also seen the flip side of the attendance debate, and quite frankly, I never had a problem with parents pulling their kids out of school for reasons like family outings before or after a deployment, or house hunting leave prior to a PCS move. The students usually came back tired and whiny, but it never took them long to get back into the swing of things.

As with any issue, there are two sides. As I was writing this article and discussing the topic of attendance with some of my military spouse friends, I realized that I may not always feel the same as I do now. My children are currently in kindergarten and third grade. How will I feel when they’re in high school? If I had been a middle school teacher instead of a kindergarten teacher, would I have felt differently about my students missing school?

For now, I plan to celebrate my children’s near perfect attendance on their first report cards of this school year. And then I’ll cut myself some slack when I pull them out of school next week as we travel for Thanksgiving.

We gotta do what we gotta do.

What do you think? Do you ever pull your kids out of school? Have you seen drops in your children’s academic achievement because of absences? Do you find that pulling your children out of school is an unavoidable part of military life?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Having worked as a therapist for several years in the school system in Hawaii, with many military families that were transitioning or a parent deploying, I can see the struggle. But there is no blanket answer to this question. It depends on the family and the needs of the child. The author of this article is a prior kindergarten teacher and works diligently with her children to insure they are up to speed with appropriate educational standards. This is not always the case. Children get moved from duty station to duty station and their education is interrupted; sometimes the curriculum is harder, sometimes easier. Depending on whether or not a child has special needs, diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability, has been in the school for long enough to feel comfortable about asking for help, is not going to be pulled out during a significant testing or project that might cause anxiety, and the list can continue, should also be a factor. Make every day the servicemember is home time the child can spend creating memories, developing evening rituals, participating in weekend adventures. Those are the meaningful things that the child will remember when missing the parent. The vacation time is a great holiday experience as well but not necessarily needed in order to assist the family in creating a strong bond that includes coping strategies for the child while parent is deployed. And sometimes, children that were being kept home from school were during deployments when the parent at home was having difficulty. It is important to make sure the parents are seeking assistance when they are feeling overwhelmed at home.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I am a special education math teacher at a high school that is predominantly military kids. Our district has a very liberal policy towards homecomings and R&R, and is very accommodating. The decision to pull your child really depends on the student. I see lots of absenteeism from students who can’t afford the time away. These students struggle with content when it’s being scaffolded and modified for them in the classroom – a week away and having to catch up independently while they juggle the normal load? Near impossible. Once they reach my stage, earning credits for graduation is so important and can easily be at risk. While I understand the importance of precious moments with family, you really have to evaluate if that’s the best move for your child and their learning needs.

  • Val

    I’d never thought of it in that way before!

  • Guest

    ha I bet these are the same moms who will complain dod schools do a bad job educating (see post a few weeks ago) wah wah wah is all this site ever is anymore! !!


    I feel there is a problem with the new policy and it makes ME ANGRY!!! We always hear the statements….we support military families, we want to help families. WELL….. They are not helping the majority of families by this policy. I have been a military wife for 22 year and my oldest daughter who I pulled out of school many many times is now graduating college a year early with her degree in International Relations and Political Science and has a 3.5 GPA! I also have an 8 year old who is now in 3rd grade. This policy is not helpful at all. Most of our military members block leave doesn’t coordinate with spring break and summer vacation. Our kids need to bond with both parents at the same time to give them the sense if security within their family. Children need to have ties to their extended families and by that I mean aunts, uncles, and grandparents. For instance our school at Ft. Campbell recently changed their DODEA based school calendar to match the surrounding counties. Does that help military families? NO, it results in more missed school days.

    • Robin

      Continued…….WE MILITARY Families try to use those 4 day weekends that had previously been in-service days and holidays for family time and trips to visit the family. But not now somehow it is thought to be beneficial for us to be exactly like the civilian school system. IT FROSTS MY BEHIND…. MILITARY FAMILIES ARE UNIQUE!!! The opportunities we did have to take an 8 hour drive to visit family and reduce missed school days is gone…You would think that since the DODEA is supposed to be supporting military families they would understand our uniqueness. I’ll tell you I am a stickler about school in general my policy for both of my kids has always been if you don’t have a fever and you are not throwing up you’re going to school… It is just not RIGHT…. UNTIL my

  • Robin

    continued ……. husband gets the entire summer off for block leave this misguided attempt needs to vanish. It makes me wonder how many of the individuals that are making these decisions for our Military Families are/were in the military with a working spouse, and enduring multiple deployments. Have these decision makers been in our situation. It is easy to make these decisions without waling in our shoes. MILITARY LIFE is not easy. If the government wants to improve education, reduce drop outs and increase graduation rates. Stop allowing open campuses! Stop acting like the ALL military members coming back form deployment don’t need counseling. Stop ignoring the fact that one parent providing the majority of care and discipline isn’t contributing to problems. Give MILITARY FAMILIES skills to cope and help their children be productive members of society…. LET US BE PARENTS!!!

  • mel

    Both my kids go to civilian schools and they operate on different calendars-full year and traditional. This will cause difficulty for our yearly summer vacation trip to see family because of conflicts with my husband’s schedule and the year around start of school mid-July. My husband and I discussed this issue and we are both on the same page, our kids will not miss school for an extended period. The schools have minimum attendance requirements and I would rather save the majority of their missed days for when they are actually sick. During a recent visit by my mother, she was not upset that I didn’t keep the kids out of school and she actually enjoyed our adult time. I just think my kids’ education is priority and just because my husband is in the military doesn’t mean that they should get a free pass when other kids are penalized for missing too many days of school. HIs schedule is something that we work around and if we can’t go on a trip, so be it. We can always schedule it for a later time or family can come see us.

  • I’m a firm believer that learning doesn’t stop at school. I’m a 5th and 6th grade teacher. I have zero military families in my classroom, but I’ve had several students miss school for vacations. I have a hard time believing that they didn’t learn anything while visiting a volcano in HI and swimming with dolphins. Should it be frequent no, but if its for the benefit of the student do it!

  • I found out the hard way that our local school does NOT like active duty military families. The bias and negativity was rampant towards my family (we are only one in 3 military families here in the entire town). When my husband came back from yet another deployment, I requested immediately for my eldest (then in kindergarten, which is NOT mandatory in this state) to have a week off with her father. The school had a FIT! She had never missed a day before then, and when I even attempted to broach the subject – they sent me to speak to the principal. The principal absolutely REFUSED to “allow her to miss a full week of school, because this is a school not a daycare” (his words not mine).

  • Pt 2:
    In the end, I took her out of school anyways and she only missed another 2 EXCUSED days (total 7 days) of school. That week she had with her father two years ago? She STILL talks about it to this day, every year at the same time. It meant the world to both of them that I went to bat for this time between father and daughters.

    PS. The same school also kept harassing me to sign up for school lunches, even though we don’t qualify and I repeatedly stated we didn’t want it. They think all military families are poor or something. My daughter was bullied from day one in that school, and they blamed my daughter because she’s a “military brat and should expect this treatment in the future, so suck it up”. Her teacher also put her on a PUBLIC BUS, even though I always picked her up, and she was missing for 3 hours (“she’s a military brat, she should know how to get back home without you!”). I wound up ripping her out of the school because of the last incident, and she now attends another more tolerant school towards military families (they even have a military day at school!).