Planning Disney During School

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Approaching an approved field trip may be daunting, but with preparation, can be easy.
Approaching an approved field trip may be daunting, but with preparation, can be easy.

You’re a planner by nature, certainly. That’s why you’re on TouringPlans.com, right? Following guidelines for the best family trip suggests visiting Walt Disney World during the school year, but planning for a week out of school may be daunting. Checking  in with the teacher, educational field trip requests, and team schedules may overwhelm even the most ardent planner. With a little organization, and some honest assessment, any parent can manage school parties, rehearsals, and get all the homework done on time. My wife and I have over thirty years of combined teaching experience, and are notorious over-planners. We can help. You thought all of these tests were done years ago, didn’t you?

Before even making your 180 day dinner reservations, or plunking down the deposit, make some honest assessments about your children. Pull out attendance records and grade reports from the last school year. See what the district reported about performance. If your child missed double digits of school without a trip involved – or any other extenuating circumstances – a trip may impact the year negatively. Even with work provided and advance notification, missing school loses out on that educational experience. With most districts in the United States making a strong shift to common core, much of the educational process builds on previous learning. Especially in math and science, what kids learn today assumes they have the knowledge from previous days.

Check kids’ grades closely. This means much more than recollecting that your son or daughter is a pretty good student. Look at the numbers. Students with low grades, declining grades, or special needs may need extra help from you and the teacher following the trip. Most teacher schedules involve additional time beyond your child’s day. If possible, arrange time for your child – and perhaps you – to meet with the teacher before or after the trip.

Remember obligations for all students. Fall sports and activities start meeting in August. Many clubs have scheduled trips, concerts, and performances throughout the year. While some may be flexible, some (theater, for example) may require your child to be in attendance through the season.

Planning a trip requires closer checking than free dining and lowest cost. Your local school district website would be the best place to start. Most school districts approve calendars for the upcoming school year in the spring. First, check the dates of state and national level testing. Some school districts will not approve trips for any students during the time of testing. These testing windows may be as little as a few days – or as much as two weeks. Most states require multiple levels of testing, as well. In Pennsylvania, for example, students must demonstrate mastery of mathematics, science, and English. For some students, this may be all in eleventh grade. For others, it may occur in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade. If a student doesn’t demonstrate mastery, then the child must complete a course, and re-take the test the following year.

Check the dates for SAT tests and ACT tests – and advanced placement tests, too. While the SAT and ACT are offered multiple dates, your child may wish to take them multiple times. Advanced placement exams are generally offered one date – in May – and qualifying for a make-up test doesn’t include trips to Walt Disney World.

Familiarize yourself with your district handbook. It should include information about educational trips and make-up work. Turn in your trip request as soon as it is booked – or better yet – before you book it. Give enough time for the district to review and approve your trip. Schedules and calendars can change radically throughout the year. This past winter, most school districts in our area had multitudes of cancellations due to weather. The state decided to modify our scheduled testing window. Students with pre-approved trips already had the paperwork in hand. Those that waited until after the testing window had changed had their requests denied. By completing work early, obstacles had been overcome.

After approval of your trip, communicate with the teachers. About two weeks before the trip, send a quick reminder to the teachers, and ask about work that will missed. Some teachers may have it ready to go, but others may send work to complete during the trip. Still others may prefer your child to make up the work upon return. Every one of your children may have differing amounts of work for before, during, and after the trip. Depending upon the level, your child may have different directions for each class, too. Upon return, re-contact the teacher about two days before the trip to serve as a final reminder, or to return work completed ahead of time. Clarify any concerns about work, and ask for updated deadlines for assignments.

After your trip, get your kids to school. Are they tired? Certainly. Missing more school may compound the problem. Instead, get your kids to school, and get them to bed early. Have your kids talk with the teacher before or after school – and follow-up with an e-mail to check on other work. Plans most certainly changed during your time away. Check and meet deadlines, then follow up to confirm all work has been completed. While district policy shouldn’t be weaponized, know the details about length of trip and time allocated to complete work upon your child’s return. Problems undoubtedly will occur. With this many working parts, you, the teacher, and the kids may encounter hurdles that previously seemed manageable.

Communicate as quickly as possible. Once, I had a student call me from Hawaii on my home phone number because she had a difficulty with an assignment I had given her. I told her to hang up the phone, go to the beach, and enjoy the day. While her away from school assignment had entailed far more, I could see it was interfering with her life, so I re-directed her. If her parents needed to confirm, they could call me. She, however, was forbidden from considering any other part of an assignment for me. If she hadn’t the opportunity to contact me she might have worried throughout the trip – and lost the whole reason for the vacation. As a teacher, I frequently tell students that there are two types of kids – those who worry too much, and those who worry too little. She most certainly fell into the first category. Communication can quickly clarify small details, allay any fears, and overcome difficulties. Emails are generally within reach for everyone.

Help your kids and teacher – but don’t make excuses. Students can move mountains. Most of them don’t generally have a deep desire to – which makes them exactly like the rest of us. By making clear high expectations – with solid deadlines – kids can achieve. Expect greatness. When difficulties arise, give feedback. Don’t, however, intercede and take over. Teachers know which work was completed by parents. The lesson of stumbling on an assignment and overcoming will affect your children positively. Guide your kids back to the teacher for questions and guidance. Teaching students how to achieve falls well within my expertise. Guiding parents does not. When students tell me they are taking a trip during the school year, I try to ask them multiple questions. While planning a trip to Walt Disney World may seem daunting, with careful planning and follow-up it can prove a rewarding experience. Certainly, I’ve never regretted a day that I have missed school – and especially not the ones I missed to go to Walt Disney World.

Please welcome Kevin Bastos to the TouringPlans blog team. Kevin and his wife are both teachers in Pennsylvania. They have three children.

Kevin Bastos

Kevin has taught high school since 1998, and loved Disney World since a 2009 visit with his wife and three daughters. He loves the planning stages of the vacation, and tends to focus on details (while his wife manages the big picture). He also collects comic books, and sometimes maintains a blog reading them. You can follow my twitter @kevin_m_bastos.

23 thoughts on “Planning Disney During School

    • July 14, 2014 at 2:23 pm
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      As a teacher, school always is the most important thing. As a parent, I also know that sometimes trips necessitate being out of school. Never in my days would I think a person would say, “Thank goodness I stayed in school instead of taking that life-altering trip.” Looking from the school side, with clear communication, most obstacles can be overcome. I don’t know of too many pursuits of truancy in my school district, but I do know of a few that I wish would have been pursued. Awareness usually can clarify most scenarios. However, every local school, local government, state government – and in this case – different governing body affects the outcome. Ultimately, every parent must make choices. Occasionally, those choices might result in unexcused or ‘illegal’ absences. Consequences for those in first grade would probably be inconsequential. In years leading to college – depending on scenarios – that might result in lower grades, or reflection on transcripts. Communicate and ask questions. Before deposits are made. Good luck!

      Reply
    • July 26, 2014 at 10:10 am
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      Most if not all schools in England and possibly the rest of the UK have a zero tolerance when it comes to taking children out of school for a holiday. Each parent is charged a fixed penalty for each child of compulsory school age and if that’s not paid each parent is taken to court. Seen it happen dozens of times. Not sure if the teacher will take up his/her valuable time to prepare work for the child on holiday either. So you have to weigh up whether it’s worth taking the fine and your child missing out a week or two at school to take them on an amazing holiday!

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  • July 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm
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    Thank you for good things to think about. I have pulled my kid out of school for a week (after OK’ed by teacher, who was wonderful), but she had so much homework afterward, I don’t want to do that again. Not for a week, anyway. Oh, and don’t forget a super cool souvenir from Disney for teacher!

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    • July 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm
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      Small tokens of appreciation are appreciated. Especially by high school teachers. My wife comes home with piles of stuff at Christmas. I TREASURE every five dollar Starbucks card and small chocolate!

      Reply
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  • July 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm
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    I have never heard of having to request permission to take a trip…what are the advantages of filing paperwork for this rather than just being absent for a week? Thanks in advance!

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    • July 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm
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      The biggest thing is that your absence is approved in advance. Following a trip – and submitting the absence after return – the school may or may not approve. If you vacationed during testing, or were out more than approved days. For example, after a certain number of absences, a school may require a student to return a medical excuse. This is more than a parent stating that you went to the doctor. It is a signed verification from a physician. By approving ahead of time – you have that already. Plus, if school plans change – like our testing date did this past year, you have the approval ahead of time. Finally, if your child states that you were on vacation – or gives that information to the school, but you’ve given a different reason, the school may decide to remove the approval.

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      • July 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm
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        I could also add that in my previous school district this form served as another written communication with my child’s teachers in addition to my emails. It was helpful when teachers were preparing assignments that would be missed during the vacation time, and often the teachers would have these assignments ready for my child before we left for the trip. It gave my child something to do during our flight.

      • July 14, 2014 at 7:49 pm
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        It also gives both sides specific evidence of communication. It’s why I always prefer e-mail to voice mail!

  • July 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm
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    Great article! There’s so much to consider. We’ve taken 2 Dis trips during the school year and have had great results. Our kids always take their school work with them and do the majority of it in the airport and on the plane.
    You’re absolutely right, communication is key. Our teachers are always quick to respond to emails and are willing to work with us before and after our trips to make sure the kids stay on pace.

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  • July 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm
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    1. Don’t ask the teacher for a packet of work, if you aren’t going to ensure it is done and done well. About half the time a teacher creates a work package it comes back to school undone. This tends to make them unhappy.
    2. If you have a first grader who isn’t yet a fluent reader don’t even think about October. You could set your child back a year or more.
    3. If your school has no school on religious holidays use one of those weeks, or use the Veteran’s Day week.
    4. It really all depends on the type of student you have. Some kids could miss two weeks and catch up in no time. Others would take all year, if that. You can’t replace the in class instruction with homework packets. This is especially true if your child is getting individual help from a specialist.

    Steve

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    • July 14, 2014 at 2:16 pm
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      While I don’t agree completely with all of your comments – I don’t speak from experience, either. High school is a different animal.

      1. Don’t ask the teacher for a packet of work, if you aren’t going to ensure it is done and done well. About half the time a teacher creates a work package it comes back to school undone. This tends to make them unhappy.

      Absolutely agree with prep. Half might be an exaggeration – but it is frustrating.

      2. If you have a first grader who isn’t yet a fluent reader don’t even think about October. You could set your child back a year or more.

      If you have a first grader who isn’t a fluent reader – any month might set a child back a year. Or, perhaps, it wouldn’t. Either way, I wouldn’t take a chance with a student who might be struggling.

      3. If your school has no school on religious holidays use one of those weeks, or use the Veteran’s Day week.

      It would depend on the level. High school might be okay but might not. A kid in band might miss a parade – but really – get approval and plan.

      4. It really all depends on the type of student you have. Some kids could miss two weeks and catch up in no time. Others would take all year, if that. You can’t replace the in class instruction with homework packets. This is especially true if your child is getting individual help from a specialist.

      Yes, yes, and yes. Especially about no real replacement for school.

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  • July 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm
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    perhaps we are just lucky? Here in our elementary district an absence of five days or more you can apply for “independent study” and you get a packet of work that must be completed, some assignments… and those days don’t count as absences for the student or school. We found the week our school had annual “minimum day week” on back of a 3-day school week and planned our trip at this time when school is more recess than learning.

    Beyond elementary school things get more complicated- and I don’t think we will pull our kids for a trip but rather ‘suck it up’ so to speak and hit at a more peak time with our (future) teens.

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  • July 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm
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    Be sure to check directly with the teacher and principal on work load before you book your trip. Perhaps this is a difference in states, but in California parents enter formal contract to pull their children out of school for anything beyond 5 days – creating an “Independent Study” situation. Regulations and expectations for this have tightened in recent years. We have children in different schools (different schedules) and have pulled them out for trips. The amount of work expected to be completed on each trip is impressive. For example, our 4th grader had 4 hours of work to do each day. This work could not be done before or after the trip – much of it was specific for the day. The days of getting a quick packet or light reading are over in our state. We have learned to expect serious work and plan to have your child removed from “vacation mode” for large chunks of the day.

    Similarly, be sure you are willing and able to assist your child with this work during the trip. Every year, we question if the tears and frustration of sitting in a hotel room for a large chunk of the day is worth the vacation. Not all children easily embrace this, and what may be 4 hours of daily work can easily turn into a much long chunk of time if they are not enthused about getting it done or take longer than expected.

    At least in California, you should not expect to pull your child out of school for a week of vacation and truly get a vacation.

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    • July 14, 2014 at 7:46 pm
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      With so much accountability shifting lately, districts now have to govern each student population uniquely. Successful schools not only need to perform – but also show progress. The best schools – and worst ones – all have to show growth in each student. Even in impossible scenarios. We had two students this year with perfect SAT scores, and one perfect ACT score. According to the model, those students must be better next year. The districts have tightened these constraints to eliminate abusive scenarios, more than likely. I know of one student who, over the course of four school years, missed the equivalent of an entire school year. The accountability burden grows – and evidence for each child must show that progress. A student missing more than a week of school would need evidence of mastery to continue.

      Reply
  • July 14, 2014 at 6:35 pm
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    I can’t believe parents would still do this. Here, if you miss more than three non-doctor excused days per semester you fail. Period. If you are in a sport or extracurricular activity and miss for more than illness you are out. Period. This problem is avoided by our schools with multiple two week vacations at odd times throughout the year and only two months off in the summer. Vacations are easy and the child still gets a chance to perform and excel.

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    • July 14, 2014 at 7:41 pm
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      I certainly don’t know every school district or scenario – but I find it difficult to believe that many school districts would follow this iron-clad a procedure. Offhand, I could think of multiple exceptions that a district would have difficulty enforcing this. Death in the family, medical emergency of parents, or custody hearing could all be legitimate excuses to miss school. Undoubtedly, many districts enforce a maximum number of days that could be approved. Perhaps your district has chosen three (many in my area have chosen five). In those scenarios, I’d suggest carving days around weekends or holidays to meet those requirements. As an educator, I am allotted three personal days each year, and can ‘bank’ two unused days to the following year. It’s how I took a trip this past May for my anniversary. With your district interspersing multiple times throughout the year – I can see how this could be easier to constrain the number of days.

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  • July 14, 2014 at 8:58 pm
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    Thanks for the advice. We missed a week for disney when my daughter was in kindergarten, and she didn’t even have make-up homework. She is above average in reading and math, and has no behavioral issues, so she had no problems getting back into routine. This year she’ll be in 2nd grade and my middle child will be in kindergarten and we plan to do this again late april. I’ll be sure to communicate well with the teachers. It’s much easier to miss school (within reason) without worry in these younger years, I think. However, my youngest has some special needs, so I know that we won’t be able to do this once he starts kindergarten. But we have the next two years to take advantage of the low ‘after easter’ crowds until then!

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  • July 14, 2014 at 11:15 pm
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    We took our son out of elementary school several times (over 6 years) for Disney trips without issue. We tried this in middle school for just three days this last year and we fought with one particular teacher for the rest of the year – and he never seemed to catch up. We gave months of advanced notice to everyone and did not receive one piece of homework in advance. I would love to be able to miss the crowds for a trip again, but it’s just not worth the misery of the apparent backlash. We would have gladly worked on projects at night, I guess it’s just so individual.

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  • July 16, 2014 at 9:44 am
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    All I can say after reading many of the comments is thank goodness we homeschool. I teach my children year round, and we take a week here and a week there off. This year one of our vacation weeks will be during the low November crowd weeks just before Thanksgiving.

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  • June 24, 2020 at 8:15 am
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    We had issues with some teachers not willing to give assignments beforehand, so that my students could do them before the trip. One of the teachers insisted on the immediate work after school (after a lesson) in order to have a clear view on the situation and a fresh idea what to write about in a paper. The deadlines were strictly set and I could only persuade the teacher to give less homework.
    Arthur

    Reply

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