School Takes Mom to Court Over Child’s Unauthorized Mid-Term Holiday

April 2, 2019 Updated: April 4, 2019

An educational establishment in the West Midlands of England has taken legal action against a mother for taking one of her children on a holiday during the school term.

Staffordshire mom Rachel Lancaster, 34, was shocked to be summoned to court after she took her youngest daughter, Tinkerbell, on a family trip to Spain without permission from Oxhey First School in Biddulph, 18 miles east of Crewe.

Lancaster had hoped to bring her three children on their first overseas holiday to spend time their grandfather in Spain. Because of her son’s autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she had to travel during the term instead of the highly crowded school break.

“He wouldn’t be able to cope with the crowds during the school holidays, and that wouldn’t make it a nice experience for the others either, so I wanted to take them for a week in July before the school holidays started,” she told Stoke-on-Trent Live. “My dad lives in Spain and I really wanted us to go over to see him. I don’t get to see him very often … I thought, ‘We all need a holiday’ and there was no other way round it.”

Leave requests for her son, Tyreis Hancock, from Loxley Hall School in Uttoxeter, and her eldest daughter Chelsea, from Biddulph High School, were approved without a problem. However, Oxhey First School denied Lancaster’s time off request for younger daughter Tinkerbell Lancaster.

“Tyreis’ school was fine with it, and so was the high school, it was just Tinkerbell’s school [that was not],” she said. “I thought they would have been more understanding because her brother has a disability.”

Since Lancaster decided to go overseas anyway, Tinkerbell’s school slapped the mother with a £60 (US$78) fine several weeks later through the postal service, accusing Lancaster of taking Tinkerbell away on an “unauthorised absence.”

“I was angry to receive the fine. I called Staffordshire County Council and was advised how to appeal,” the frustrated Mom said. “I emailed the person I was told to but I never heard anything back. Then, before I knew it, I had a summons to go to court.”

The mother was charged with “being the parent of a child who failed to attend school regularly” and received an even bigger £185 (US$241) fine from North Staffordshire Justice Centre in Newcastle.

Lancaster believes the education system should manage leave requests differently so as to avoid unnecessary legal expenses.

“The whole system should be handled differently. I wonder how other people who have children with disabilities go on,” Lancaster said. “I understand they have to stop children having a lot of time off school, but I don’t know why they couldn’t be sympathetic to our situation.”

Oxhey First School defends its decision to decline Lancaster’s leave request for Tinkerbell to visit Spain. According to the school’s attendance policy published online, parents can be fined for any period of unauthorised leave and only the headteacher can only authorize leave during the term.

“This will apply only in exceptional circumstances,” the policy dated December 2018 said. “Any unauthorised absence will be referred by your headteacher to the local authority.”

The school also warns if all attempts to improve the student’s attendance fail, the education welfare officer has powers to issue penalty notices or use legal action with a maximum penalty of £2500 and three months in jail.

“The welfare of the children at Oxhey is paramount,” Oxhey First School Headteacher Catherine Pointon said. “Any decision to grant leave during term time is made after following strict guidelines and the school’s attendance policy, taking into account the nature of the circumstances and the child’s attendance record.”