- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2019

D.C. lawmakers on Thursday reviewed strategies to combat chronic absenteeism and truancy, following a report last week that showed an increase in students cutting classes in the District.

The rate of chronic absenteeism, defined as 18 or more days of excused and/or unexcused absences, was over 30% for students in the 2018-2019 school year among the District’s 240 public and charter schools, according to a report by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE). That marks an 4% increase over the last three years.

City schools also saw a nearly 8.5% increase over the last four years in truancy, defined as 10 or more days of unexcused absences. The truancy rate was about 30% for the 2018-2019 school year.

In a joint committee hearing Thursday, D.C. Council members grappled with these statistics as they debated the factors that contribute to absenteeism and ways to reverse the current trends.

“We have to do something different,” said council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “The numbers are too high and seem to be getting higher.”

A total of 23,376 of the 94,000 students in public and charter schools missed 18 or more school days in the 2018-2019 school year, according to the OSSE.

“How do we blitz these schools?” said council member David Grosso, at-large independent and chairman of the Education Committee. He noted that Ballou High School, Cardozo Education Campus and Theodore Roosevelt High School had chronic absenteeism rates close to or higher than 80% last school year.

The OSSE also found a slight but noteworthy increase in absenteeism the day after a violent crime occurs within a certain distance of a student’s home. For example, the day following a homicide, absenteeism increased from 10% to 15% among students who lived within 250 feet of the killing. About 65% of such students live in Wards 7 and 8.

Council member Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat, shared anecdotal evidence.

“Growing up, I was very truant from school, late to school often and that experience, part of it was not all my fault,” Mr. White said, adding that he often didn’t feel safe walking to school by himself.

Administrators from Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast shared some of their strategies, as their school saw chronic absenteeism fall from 46% in the 2017-2018 school year to 26% in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Calvin Green, a student and staff support coordinator at Friendship Collegiate, said a part of the strategy involves constantly engaging students, parents and teachers about attendance. There are weekly staff meetings with teachers to discuss attendance issues, home visits for parents, wake-up calls for students, one-on-one counseling for students who are absent.

Mr. Green said they found that many students arrive late to school because they have younger siblings they help care for, some students are teen parents and the day care center isn’t open by the start time, and some have to take care of their parents before they leave for school.

As a reaction to this, Friendship Collegiate changed the start time for those students to later in the morning and added an extra period at the end of the school day for them to attend.

Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said his office experimented with sending out “energy bill”-style mailers targeted to families about their children’s specific attendance records, which boosted attendance rates by 2%.

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