[Reading level: B2 – Upper Intermediate]
BERLIN – While airport security officials around the world check for weapons and identification before letting passengers board a plane, the police in Germany are checking for school-age children – and reporting families who take their youngsters on vacation without a teacher’s authorization.
Before school ended on Friday for the two-week spring vacation in Bavaria, officers caught 21 families allowing their children to play hooky, the police confirmed on Wednesday.
Offending parents were reported to the school and to the local authorities. In Bavaria, that could mean a fine as high as 1,000 euros, or about $1,200.
“Before the start and after the end of vacation, we see a big increase in children excused as being sick – in some cases, the rate can be double or triple the normal amount,” Heinz-Peter Meidinger, the head of a German teachers’ association, said in an interview.
With more German families routinely flying abroad during school vacations, the temptation to buy cheaper flights has clashed with official rules on when to give children time off.
“It is really a wealth phenomenon,” said Mr. Meidinger, noting that truancy around vacation time has been increasing in the last two decades.
Even before the advent of inexpensive flights abroad, Germany’s autobahns would quickly fill to capacity on the first days of official breaks, causing lengthy traffic jams and making regular travel almost impossible. Partly to mitigate such chaos on the roads, school holidays in Germany are staggered from state to state.
A national law obliging school-age children to be in class during regular school hours was first passed in 1919. Exceptions, such as for illnesses or special occasions, need to be excused with a doctor’s note or a letter from parents, and they require approval from the school.
“When it comes to family reunions and the like, school administrations can be very accommodating, but not when it’s just about saving money on flights and hotels,” Mr. Meidinger said.
High demand means that flights and hotels can become much more expensive during vacation periods. Sometimes, booking just one day earlier can save hundreds of dollars, experts say.
Although the police action was fairly limited, the news prompted intense online discussion between parents questioning the value of the last few days of school before a break and those who said they did not believe that children should be taken out of class just to save money on travel. An online version of an article in the daily Die Welt prompted more than 900 replies.
One commenter, who used the name Der Herr, wrote: “Typical German: to take a good regulation that is meant to ensure that nobody stays uneducated and make it into a regulation that complicates the end of the school year for children and parents, who are just trying to recuperate from it.”
The police in Bavaria described the action as just part of the routine duties that officers carry out at airports.
“It’s just as if we pulled over a car with a school-age child, we might well ask why they are not in school,” said Florian Wallner, a spokesman for the police in Allgäu, which has a small airport where 10 families received official notices.
“I don’t think it’s exaggerated,” Mr. Meidinger said about the police action. “It’s not like they were forced to cancel their flights.”
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