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Ogden's Odyssey Elementary has a goal of 95 percent attendance, and Principal Leanne Rich said her students hit that target in most months.

The exceptions, she said, are December and January, when attendance falls to roughly 90 percent, or 30 to 40 more students absent than in other months.

At Odyssey, 80 percent of students are racial minorities, with roughly half learning English as a second language. That community includes several immigrant and refugee families, Rich said, many of whom leave the state or country to visit relatives during the holiday months.

"The range varies," Rich said. "I have some families who are literally going for two months and others who are going for nine days."

Winter months are prone to sick days and holiday travel that can keep any student out of school. But Utah educators say there is also a notable trend among minority families to take extended vacations in December and January.

The holiday exodus isn't large enough to cause severe operational issues at schools. But the extra absences can create hurdles for struggling students when the families return.

"We have to make instructional decisions," Rich said, "because so many of the kids, if they're gone, miss very, very foundational instruction."

Others say the holiday trend has diminished since the recession, when a sluggish economy dried up the employment opportunities driving immigration.

Joann Price, a former principal in Salt Lake City School District, said many of her Latino students would leave school in December.

Now a school leadership support director for the district, she said vacation-driven dips in attendance aren't an issue at the schools with which she works.

"That really diminished," she said, "when the recession hit and a lot of families left because the work wasn't prevalent here."

Michael Clara, a Salt Lake City School Board member who represents the west side, said current politics have made international travel more challenging for immigrant and refugee families.

"Five or six years ago it was happening all the time," he said. "I don't see it happening at all now."

Rich said that in the lower grades, when students are being taught to read and write, a break in schooling of several weeks can be a significant interruption.

"They come back and it's like they take a huge step backward with their language," she said, "which affects their literacy, their numeracy and their everything."

But students who travel internationally also have advantages, she said, in the form of an opportunity to learn about different places and cultures.

When parents contact her to excuse their children for several weeks, she said, she encourages them to find educational moments during the break.

"We definitely encourage writing," she said. "They're having rich experiences that they can write about and share with us when they get back."

And it's not just diverse schools that take an attendance hit during the winter months, Price said.

While international and extended travel has trended down, she said students are still missing school in December and January due to colds and other health concerns.

"It's usually because of the illnesses that hit schools," she said. "They're kind of like a giant petri dish."

Twitter: @bjaminwood