Prosecuting good parents for term-time holidays is a blow against freedom

Tom Welsh
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A trip to Disney World is a once in a lifetime experience (Source: Getty)

There is only one conclusion to draw from the draconian Supreme Court ruling on the case of Jon Platt: take your children out of school and, regardless of the circumstances, you will be punished.

Platt had refused to pay a fine for taking his daughter to Disney World in term time when travel is much cheaper, for which he hadn’t received prior permission from the school. If he were a serial offender, pulling his daughter out of lessons whenever he felt like it, perhaps there would be some justice to the argument of Platt’s critics, that non-attendance is disruptive and can damage the education of all students.

But that is a gross mischaracterisation of the case. The court ruled that Platt was liable for the fine because his daughter’s solid 92.3 per cent attendance record did not mean she was at school “regularly”. Regular means “in accordance with the attendance rules” not “sufficiently often”, they said, in a bizarre contortion of the natural use of the word.

Read more: There’s no evidence to justify fines for term time holidays

While some see this as a brave strike against irresponsible parenting, let’s call it what it really is: an attack on the ability of good parents to make choices on behalf of their children, even to break the rules occasionally.

It’s not for them to determine whether their children will benefit from experiences like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World, but for educational bureaucrats, who will grant or withhold permission based on a rigid set of rules. You will not escape punishment even if you are obviously a good parent.

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Interestingly, it was the normally statist Greens who mounted the best defence of parental choice. Noting that this ruling could even see parents criminalised for one-off absences like attending weddings and funerals, they also called for reform of school holidays themselves.

They have a strong case. Schools now have the freedom to decide their term dates, and they should make greater use of them. Instead of an enormous break over the summer, when travel prices are much higher, they should consider more terms and shorter holidays at different times of the year. Then parents like Platt wouldn’t risk prosecution for doing what they think is right for their children.

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