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Father’s letter goes viral after sparking debate over school policy

Mike Rossi, a 47-year-old husband and father of two, was ecstatic to be able to participate in the Boston Marathon on April 20, and was even happier to have his children there to cheer him on.

Rossi took his children out of school on April 17th, 20th and 21st for a family trip with his wife, Cindy, Philadelphia Magazine reported.

The trip to Beantown was intended to center around Monday’s race, while also providing his children with a unique learning experience.

Soon after the trip ended, he got a letter from Rydal Elementary School Principal Rochelle Marbury, the school at which his twins attend third-grade, saying that his children’s absences will be counted as “unexcused” due to their family vacation.

I understand that your family recently took a family vacation. I want you to be aware that the Abington School District does not recognize family trips as an excused absence, regardless of the activities involved in the trip. The school district is not in the position of overseeing family vacations or evaluating the educational nature of a family trip. The dates that the children were absent were recorded as unexcused. An accumulation of unexcused absences can result in referral to our attendance officer and a subsequent notice of a violation of the compulsory school attendance law.

Rossi said the letter rubbed him the wrong way and insisted he is an active participant in his children’s school.

“I take them every day,” he said in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine. “I chaperone all of the class trips that I can. I go to the field day and all activities. I even make videos for the classrooms and show them at the end of the year — highlights from the year. And I go in and read a couple of times a year.”

While Pennsylvania law allows for educational family trips to be considered excused absences, state law also allows local school districts to use their own discretion.

Rossi then sent his own letter back to Marbury, expressing his thoughts on the policy.

In the letter, addressed as “Dear Madam Principal,” he said that his children learned as much during their “once-in-a-lifetime experience” in Boston as they would have during an entire year in school.

In the 3 days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history, culinary arts and physical education.

Rossi said his children watched him overcome an “injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal” while experiencing “first-hand the love and support of thousands of others cheering on people with a common goal.”

The Boston Marathon, which is known to bring runners from all over the world with their own personal attributes, was also a tribute to the victims lost in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

At the marathon, they watched blind runners, runners with prosthetic limbs and debilitating diseases and people running to raise money for great causes run in the most prestigious and historic marathon in the world. They also paid tribute to the victims of a senseless act of terrorism and learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit. These are things they won’t ever truly learn in the classroom.

Rossi said he also took his children to walk the Freedom Trail, visit the site of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre and the graves of several signers of the Declaration of Independence.

We appreciate the efforts of the wonderful teachers and staff and cherish the education they are receiving at Rydal Elementary School. We truly love our school. But I wouldn’t hesitate to pull them out of school again for an experience like the one they had this past week.

While Rossi condemns the zero-tolerance policy, he believes some system should be in order for uninvolved parents.

“These rules should be in place for parents who aren’t involved and who, in some cases, don’t even know their kids are absent,” he said. This is not for responsible parents trying to teach their kids the right things and teach them about the world outside the classroom.”

Rossi and his wife met with the school Wednesday and are reported to make appearances on the Today Show and Fox and Friends on Thursday.

Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes