A UK man is celebrating a High Court victory in a case that has serious implications for a school’s ability to regulate whether students can miss classes due to parents’ decisions.
Jon Platt, a parent on the Isle of Wight, probably didn’t think that he’d turn into a hero to mums and dads throughout the UK when he decided to take his daughter out of school for a week to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. But after returning from his April 2015 trip, Platt was fined £60, which doubled to £120 after he refused to pay. Platt cited his right to parent his children as he saw fit, even if they missed a bit of school.
The Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court dealt with the case in October, handing Platt a win — but the council decided to appeal to the High Court. Platt says that he has spent £13,000 in the process, aided by a crowdfunding campaign that raised £25,000, and believes that the council has spent roughly the same amount.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall decided that the magistrates were correct in their application of regulations that limit parents’ authority on removing students during school terms. The justices said that because Platt’s daughter showed acceptable attendance, that broader context of her time in school suggested that no harm was done by her missing a week.
After the decision was announced, Platt said:
“I am obviously hugely relieved. I know that there was an awful lot riding on this – not just for me but for hundreds of other parents.”
Parents frequently look to take family trips during term-time in no small part because of the price. A FairFX survey of prices during both term-times and school holiday periods found that packages coinciding with breaks can rise in price by up to 115%, meaning a trip while school is in session could save a family more than 50%. An earlier study by FairFX found that half-term flights were up to eight times more costly than flights during the school year.
Section 444 of the Education Act requires that students’ attendance reach 90%, a threshold that Platt’s daughter met. Regulations introduced in 2013 by former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove took a harder line, with Gove saying that there was no reason why a student should miss class during the school year.
Platt’s victory suggests that the government’s grip on regulating parent behavior will loosen as more challenges come forward. Martin Daubney of The Telegraph calls Platt a “middle class hero”:
“With seasonal adjustments meaning the same holiday can literally double in price within a week when schools are out, foreign vacations are becoming the preserve of the well-off.
To us parents on the ground, [restricting holidays] feels little more than a stealth tax on parenthood.”
The hashtag #JonPlatt quickly popped up on Twitter with parents across the UK eliciting overwhelmingly supportive responses.
In 2014-2015, over 50,000 fines were issued to parents for “unauthorised absence,” claims The Telegraph. Platt has won his day in the High Court and appears to be the first of many who will be granted flexibility on taking time away with their families.
Platt summed up his feelings in a way that resonated with frustrated UK parents:
“This idea that I have to justify to Isle of Wight council what I do with my kids is a nonsense.”