Many U.S. school districts urged parents to keep their kids in class and not take them to work Thursday for an annual event they say disrupts learning at an increasingly critical time of year.
From Arizona to Illinois to Texas, educators alerted parents that between high-stakes standardized testing in some areas and the H1N1 virus that kept thousands of children home earlier in the school year, the timing of "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" doesn't make sense.
"This year, of all years, to have a student miss a day for something like this that could be done anytime — it just seems the focus should be on students and their learning here," said Guy Schumacher, the superintendent of Libertyville Elementary School District 70 in suburban Chicago.
In many districts, some of which sent strongly worded letters or e-mails to parents explaining that taking part was putting their children's education at risk, officials reported that teachers were not finding rows of empty seats in classrooms Thursday.
"We had only six out today (and) that's actually less than usual," said Darrell Propst, principal of Taylor Road Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, one of those who asked parents not to pull their kids out of school for the day. "Our attendance was very, very good today."
Some administrators said they recognized that spending time with their parents at work could be a valuable educational experience for children, but it does not justify pulling them out of the classroom — even for one day.
"Stakes have never been higher for student achievement," wrote Virginia B. McElyea, the superintendent of the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, Ariz. "Every day your child is out of school his or her learning achievement suffers."
Administrators have been complaining about the event's date for well over a decade. Some have said they've contacted the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation to ask that it be held on a school holiday or during the summer, but the organization won't budge.
A spokesman for the foundation, George McKecuen, said it's important that the event — launched in 1993 for girls and expanded to include boys in 2004 — be held during the school year so children can go back and tell their classmates what they learned. He suggested schools might schedule a holiday or teacher work day on that day or: "Maybe they can do their tests some other day."
"It's always there on the calendar, the fourth Thursday in April," McKecuen said.
At schools where standardized tests aren't being given that day, the exams may be looming. Student test scores have become increasingly important to public schools since the 2002 No Child Left Behind law was enacted, linking standardized test results to federal funding.
"Because of the high-stakes testing we're involved in during the spring, the kids need to be in school as much as they can," said Ron Simpson, a spokesman for a regional education service center in Richardson, Texas.
Some parents, however, say their children learn enough about their parents and the world that day to make up for whatever they miss in class.
"I think it's a great opportunity for my daughter to see her mother in action, so to speak," said Alicia Agugliaro, who planned to take her 7-year-old daughter to the drug development company in Princeton, N.J., where she works in marketing communications. "Our company emphasized leadership and partnership, and I think that's a good message for kids."
Other parents, though, acknowledge it may not be worth it.
"I think it's a great experience for the kids to see what a professional environment is like, but they also may need to weigh that with how much they are going to miss at school, whether there is a test they will have to make up or what is going on that day," said Jill Krizek, who for years has brought her 11-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son to the bank in suburban Kansas City where she's a human resources director.
Her son, a high school freshman, has decided not to participate.
"He feels like he misses too much work," she said. "I have worked here 13 years, so it hasn't changed enough."
But McKecuen, from the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation, said the event gives students a chance to see the connection between what they learn in school and the skills they will need as adults. He said it also can spark children's interest in careers they might not have considered or known about.
That's what happened in Chicago, at the office of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
In a letter written to Brown last November, Jade Ieshia Cage, a college freshman studying to be a lawyer, wrote that participating in the event "helped me decide what I want to do in my life."
Associated Press writers Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.
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