Tasmanian parents looking to holiday with their families during the school term could soon be facing a big fine.
ABC reports, changes to the state’s education act in Tasmania, which came into effect last year, were designed to raise education standards and encourage children to attend school as much as possible.
The laws mean school principals are no longer allowed to personally excuse a child from school.
Previously, principals were able to use their discretion to allow absences for “any reasonable cause”, which was defined as one that they deemed to be “in the best educational interests of the student”.
Overseas holidays during school terms were often allowed under this provision, but now students can only be excused under “a new limited set of circumstances”, which are essentially sickness or incapacity.
The changes have left parents worried they could face penalties or legal battles if they decide to take their child travelling during the school term.
The new rules caused confusion amongst parents, with some contacting the department for clarification on who can authorise absences, and whether holidays during school terms will be allowed in special circumstances.
In an email responding to a parent’s enquiry, the department said more information about the changes would be provided “very shortly” through newsletters and fact sheets.
The changes stipulate that unless exempted, a parent must ensure their child attends school, is home-schooled or takes part in an individual education program.
Section 16 of the Act sets out penalties for unexplained absences as:
Fine not exceeding 15 penalty units and, in the case of a continuing offence, a further fine not exceeding 2 penalty units for each day during which the offence continues.
(2) If a court finds a parent guilty of an offence under subsection (1), the court, instead of or in addition to imposing a fine, may make a community service order within the meaning of the Sentencing Act 1997.
A penalty unit is set at $159.
A spokeswoman for the department told the ABC the act recognised certain circumstances make school absences unavoidable, but missing school for any reason has a negative impact on students’ learning.
“A child who misses a day a week will, on average, have missed a year of schooling by Grade 10,” she said.
“To get the most benefit from schooling, the Department of Education strongly encourages families and carers to plan family holidays, and other avoidable absences, in the three months when a child is not required to attend school.”
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