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Home Sittingbourne News Article
A parish councillor fined for taking her children out of school to go on holiday has vowed to do the same again.
As MPs debated travel firms ramping up prices during school holidays, Rachel Rook told how she would happily flout the law.
The defiant mother and husband James were left facing court action last year after taking their two children out of Iwade Primary School for a family break in Portugal.
The legal action was only stopped when Mrs Rook decided after several months to pay Kent County Council's (KCC) £120 fine.
But the 35-year-old remains defiant, saying something needs to be done to tackle the wider problem of parents being unable to afford breaks at peak times.
It has been revealed that between September 2012 and August 2013, KCC received £174,000 from 3,994 truancy fines – 2,649 of these were for unauthorised holidays.
The figures came as MPs looked into whether or not travel firms should be allowed to increase prices during the school holidays, with education secretary Michael Gove saying the industry "needs to look at itself in the mirror".
Action was taken against Mr and Mrs Rook after they went on holiday with son Danny, eight, and six-year-old daughter Rosie.
The first week was during half-term, but the second fell in school time and was not authorised by Iwade primary.
Even a letter from Mr Rook's boss saying it was the only time he was allowed off from his job as manager of a construction company was not enough to change the decision.
Yet they went ahead with their plans.
"If the government expect to have these policies in place they have to put some legislation on the holiday companies to stop them ripping people off..." - mother Rachel Rook
Mrs Rook, of Cormorant Road, Iwade, said: "I'm not blaming the school - it has to follow its policy. It's the policy itself that's unfair.
"I think it's important for my children to have a holiday and for us to spend time together as family.
"They only have an hour-and-a-half in the evening with their dad during the week before they go to bed.
"Occasionally he has to work weekends as well, so as far as I'm concerned those two weeks are quality time."
Six weeks after returning at the beginning of June last year, they received a letter from KCC saying they had to pay a penalty fee of £60 per person – rising to £120 each if it was not paid in 28 days.
Refusal to pay the penalty notice can then result in them being summoned to court for failure to ensure their child's regular attendance at school - an offence that carries a fine of up to £1,000.
Mrs Rook added: "At the time, my husband had problems with his back and he wasn't working so it was difficult to pay the fine. He was off from June to the end of January this year.
"We then got a court date through because we didn't pay it in time.
"In the end it was agreed I would pay £120 [before the case was heard].
"I would do it again. For us to go away and have the sort of holidays we have been having we couldn't afford it in July/August time.
"It would have cost us £800 more [when we went]. I don't understand how they can justify that.
"Holidays are important to us, but I wouldn't take them out during tests or exams."
Since September, head teachers in England no longer have the discretion to approve absences of up to 10 days a year for family holidays in "special circumstances".
The new rules introduced tougher criteria restricting it to absences for events such as funerals of family members.
Mrs Rook added: "If the government expect to have these policies in place they have to put some legislation on the holiday companies to stop them ripping people off.
"People will take the fine and take their children on holiday because it will cost them less.
"If it is so wrong for people taking them out for a week, why are there so many teacher training days over the year? I don't get it?"
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