D.C. schools optimistic on trimming truancy

City rolling out new initiatives to cut down on unexcused absences

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Officials at D.C. Public Schools told city council members they hope that central monitoring of data, early intervention and more staff will help reduce truancy in the upcoming school year.

According to data presented to the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole and Committee on the Judiciary by public schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson,11 percent of the District’s students are chronically truant, meaning they have more than 10 unexcused absences. As of March, 13 percent of high school freshmen had more than 30 unexcused absences in the past year. Complete statistics for the 2011-12 school year will be available in two weeks, Ms. Henderson said.

Half of the high school students with more than 30 absences come from six of the District’s high schools, Ms. Henderson said. Anacostia and Ballou high schools, both located in Southeast, had the highest truancy rates.

“Our students have no chance to be successful if they are not in school,” Ms. Henderson said.

To reduce truancyin the upcoming school year, the schools are adding new initiatives, Ms. Henderson said. To get a better picture of the problem, the district will monitor referral and truancy rates centrally.

They will also expand the Byer Court Model - a program that provides early intervention to students at risk of failing - to at least four more middle schools. De’Shawn Wright, deputy mayor for education and co-chairman of the Truancy Taskforce, said preliminary data show student who participated in it increased their average daily attendance.

Additionally, new staff members to work with truant students and their families will be added at the six high schools with the highest truancy rates, and more case management support will be provided to ninth graders at Ballou and Anacostia high schools.

“We have no choice but to take on this challenge,” Ms. Henderson said.

Ms. Henderson and principals from elementary and high schools told council members that having a system for dealing with truant students is not enough. Schools must develop a relationship with the community around them.

Parents must be reported to the Child and Family Services Agencyon the 25th truancy offense, but Caroline John, principal of Stanton Elementary School, said that such reports often create more problems and strain the relationship between parents and the school, she said.

“We don’t believe a one size fits all model is going to reduce the rate of truancy,” she said.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, said parents must be held accountable for their children’s absences.

“We as adults have allowed this to go on for just too long,” Mr. Catania said.

Council members will meet in the fall to revisit the issue. Mr. Wright said that the Truancy Taskforce will have a new report available by then.

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