EDITORIAL: Absenteeism Not a Problem for D.C. Grads

Hundreds of D.C. Public Schools seniors graduated this week only by the skin of their teeth. Too many of those graduates and their parents have local legislators to thank for that and for passing a measure allowing students to receive their diplomas despite chronic absences throughout the school year.

Truancy is a nagging problem faced by educators in the District and nationwide. School attendance is on the decline, despite D.C. laws that require students to attend class every day from the time they enter school at age 5 until high school graduation or the student turns 18, whichever comes first. The city’s high graduation rate last year was lauded until it was found that far too many students did not meet the attendance requirements but were allowed to graduate anyway. Students with 30 or more absences should fail, according to school policy, but no one seems to be willing to hold students, parents, school officials, truancy officers or anyone else accountable.

Research shows that students who are chronically absent are apt to facing less-than-positive outcomes academically and beyond. On the other hand, this year’s graduates may have been missing in action in the classroom, but they apparently met the academic standards which was a requirement for graduation. Students in lower grades with excessive absences were allowed to advance to the next grade, as well.

A 2017 report by the Brookings Institute, “Chronic Absenteeism: An Old Problem in Search of New Answers,” cited statistics showing that Black students “are significantly more likely to be chronically absent than their White peers, while Asian students are the least likely to be chronically absent.” Sadly, one would assume such, but the tough part is getting to the answer of why.

The question in the minds of the Class of 2019 may be, “Will I be required to attend school to graduate?” Our view which reflects the words of civil and human rights leader Malcolm X, who said, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

The time is now to set the stage for next year’s attendance requirements. On day one of the next academic year, every student should know and be asked to commit to meet the requirements and fully understand the consequences that excessive and unexcused absences will have on their academic success.

If it’s a slippery slope for the adults in their lives, it won’t be any different for them.

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