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Can parents take children out of French schools for a religious holiday?

The Local France
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Can parents take children out of French schools for a religious holiday?
Pupils in a classroom. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Pupils in France do not go short of holidays - but what is the situation if you want to take your children out of school during the term-time?

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In France, children must be in education between the ages of three and 16 years.

Students must attend scheduled classes, unless they have legitimate reasons for their absence - and going on holiday outside of the standard vacation periods set by the school calendar does not constitute a legitimate reason.

"It is not possible to envisage à la carte vacations that would disrupt the functioning of classes and harm schooling", according to France's Education Ministry.

Religious holidays, on the other hand, are acceptable reasons for a day off.

A circular published in 2004 stated: “Authorisations of absence must be able to be granted to pupils for major religious holidays which do not coincide with a day off and the dates of which are noted each year by an instruction published in the Official Bulletin of National Education.”

This would include festivals such as Yom Kippur or Eid al-Fitr, which often fall during the term-time in France. The list of major religious holidays for 2022/23 is available here.

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The big events of the Christian calendar usually coincide with either a school holiday period (Christmas) or a public holiday in France (Ascension or Assumption).

READ ALSO Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Otherwise, according to the Education Code, the only legitimate reasons for absence from school are the following:

  • illness of the child 
  • communicable or contagious illness of a family member
  • a formal family reunion
  • or temporary absence when children are obliged to travel with responsible adults

This does not necessarily mean that taking a child out of school for a holiday is completely banned. You can ask the school principal for permission to take your child out of school during term time, and explain why you are doing so.

The principal may agree, or may ask you to submit a formal request for authorisation of absence, which they will send to the regional Academic Director of the National Education Services.

What if you just take your child out of school?

Official sanctions are rare - cases don’t often get that far - but in the most serious cases, parents can go to jail if they fail to give adequate reasons for repeated absences.

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After four half-days of unjustified absence in a month, an educational team will investigate the causes of the absenteeism and propose support measures to the parents, if required.

If the absences continue for more than 10 half-days in a month, the headmaster may refer the matter to the Academic Director of National Education Services (Dasen) who will summon the parents and issue a formal notice to ensure their child attends school. 

After that, if absences continue, the matter may be referred to the public prosecutor, who will decide what action to take - the usual step would be a €135 fine.

But, in the most serious cases, parents risk two years in prison and a fine of €30,000, under article 227.17 of the Penal Code, if they are convicted of failing to educate their children.

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