- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A D.C. council member introduced ambitious legislation to stem truancy among youth and recognize behavioral issues that could lead to violence one year after several youths were gunned down in front of a house on South Capitol Street.

David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, said the bill would replace an approach “that can best be described as a patchwork of programs that reach small pockets of District youth.”

The six-part bill requires a comprehensive behavior health report on District youth and enhanced training at child development centers and schools to identify students with mental health needs.

It also calls on schools to convene a truancy conference with parents after five unexcused absences from school, would reduce the number of unexcused absences allowed before notification to the court, create a toolkit for parents and establish a Behavioral Health Ombudsman to advocate for District residents.

The legislation, titled the South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2011, memorializes Brishell Jones, William Jones III, DeVaughn Boyd, and Tavon Nelson, who were killed on a front stoop in Southeast March 30, 2010, in what authorities described as a series of retribution following the theft of a gold bracelet.

Mr. Catania said Nadyne Jefferies, the mother of 16-year-old Brishell, was the primary catalyst behind the legislation.

“She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Mr. Catania said. “I made a promise to her.”

Council Chairman Kwame Brown and council members Sekou Biddle and Tommy Wells joined Mr. Catania Wednesday.

Mr. Wells said anti-truancy screenings at individual homes are essential.

“This bill puts teeth into that, and says it must be done, no excuses,” he said.

The measures were met by applause from community leaders and advocates in attendance.

Kenneth Barnes, whose son was killed in the District about 10 years ago, said he has a common bond with the families who lost children in the South Capitol Street killings. He also has a background in clinical psychology.
“All the signs were there before (these killings) happened,” he said.

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