Virginia’s public schools need to stay in their lane regarding student absences

This weekend, as we sat on the sidelines of our children’s lacrosse game, a mother told me about an incident at her son’s Fairfax County public school. When her mother, the student’s grandmother, went into his school late to sign in her grandson following his doctor’s appointment, the administrative assistant looked at her doubtingly and asked, “Are you sure he had a doctor’s appointment?”

Over the years, other parents have shared similar stories with me about the sanctimonious gatekeepers in the offices of our children’s public schools. Unfortunately, the invasive lines of questioning are codified in school policy to determine whether or not our reasons to excuse our own children from school are sufficient.

In December 2023, I received a notification from my son’s school that he had unexcused absences. I found this peculiar because I had excused him each time he was not in school. When I excuse my sons from school, I indicate “personal” — because it is. The reasons my sons are out of school are absolutely none of the district’s or the state’s business, as long as I am aware that they are not there.

A patient district administrator sympathetically explained to me at that time that the school was simply following district and state policy. Fairfax County Public Schools has a specific category for absences for which the parent excuses the student but does not provide a reason that he or she is missing called “unexcused locally defined.” Although it appears on students’ transcripts as “unexcused,” the policy is meant to allow students to make up their work and tests for that day.

The district administrator further informed me, to my surprise, that the “unexcused locally defined” category of absence is based on Virginia’s state policy. State law includes in its definition of an unexcused absence an absence in which “the parent provides a reason for the absence that is unacceptable to the school administration.”

According to Virginia state law, local school districts can decide that our children missing school for family vacations or important athletic events is unacceptable and that the absence is, therefore, unexcused. That sounds like a policy that a “parents matter” administration might want to revise.

On Dec. 15, 2023, I reached out to officials in the Virginia Department of Education, including the state’s superintendent of public instruction and the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning. I have yet to receive a response from them. I am confident that because we hear all the time that parents matter, the state administrators are looking into this issue — four months later.

As one Fairfax County high school administrator has pointed out to me, the policy provides a dysfunctional incentive structure. Parents are basically encouraged to lie and tell the school administrators that their children have an illness to ensure that their absences are excused. 

It should be enough when parents say their children will not be in school that day. With that notification, it is the parent’s right to excuse the absence and not the school’s domain to determine validity. We should not need to inform our public schools’ administrations or teachers about personal matters in our children’s or families’ lives — because it is simply none of their business.


Stephanie Lundquist-Arora is a contributor for the Washington Examiner, a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia, an author, and the Fairfax chapter leader of the Independent Women’s Network.

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