D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) sat through an hourslong public hearing this week to rehash one of the city’s most nagging problems — truancy and absenteeism among DC school-age children.
Presenters were reminded of the recent worst cases of children who were absent from school for extremely long periods of time and later found dead or went missing because school officials failed to alert authorities about the lengthy absences in a timely manner. Four siblings, ages 5, 6, 11 and 17, were found decomposing in their Southeast apartment, dead for at least four months, allegedly at the hands of their own mother, Banita Jacks. Why didn’t school officials step in to report a problem? And 8-year old Relisha Rudd, who has been missing since March 2014, accumulated more than 30 days of absences before the problem was reported to social workers. Each of these cases had city officials standing on their feet and moving expeditiously to address the holes in the safety net meant to protect children from harm and to support families in distress.
But this problem of chronic truancy and absenteeism continues to plague our social welfare system and our schools with no remedy in sight. Attorney General Karl Racine said he would like to know closer to the time a student has exceeded the limit on unexcused absences in order to address the problem in a non-prosecutorial manner. School officials claim the paperwork for reporting absences is complex and burdensome; the courts are putting in place a mediation process with parents instead of outright prosecution, and parent and student advocates stressed the need for more attendance campaigns that promote and ensure parent awareness and understanding of DCPS’s attendance policies.
In our attempt to help address this crucial problem that will affect students for the rest of their lives, we suggest that parents, students and community members visit this link: https://dcps.dc.gov/attendance. We all need to find an answer to the question Council member Grosso asked at this week’s hearing: “What is it going to take to get our students to come to school?”