Biddle's Bill on Truancy

Wi Editorial Staff | 4/23/2011, 11:31 a.m.

D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle (D-At-Large) is digging deep for answers to solve the District's high truancy rate. The D.C. Public Schools report a 20 percent truancy rate for the 2008-2009 school year, nearly one-quarter of all K-12 students enrolled in District schools. This is a significant increase in the truancy rate from 16 percent in the 2006-07 school year, and 19 percent in the 2007-2008 school year.

Biddle joins a long list of elected and public safety officials, educators and youth advocates in the District who have been seeking ways to legislate away this nagging problem that is having a devastating impact throughout the city. And, it's not just a D.C. problem. Cities across the country are trying to find a solution to the growing disinterest in education among youth and the families who should be raising them. Acknowledging the fact that truancy leads to more serious juvenile delinquency problems, Biddle's new Truancy Zone Establishment Act of 2011, solicits the support from the business community to help "combat truancy inside the zone" which includes all land within the borders of the District of Columbia.

The effort will seek to engage businesses to display signs that students who should be in school will not be serviced during business hours without a permission slip from the student's school. The bill also provides a hotline for business owners and residents to call to "snitch" on kids who are truant. Biddle's bill is another tool in the arsenal to improve the education of our children. While nothing in the bill is mandatory; it strives to "foster a truancy awareness partnership" with DCPS, the business community and other youth service providers.

However, awareness is not the issue. Anyone who lives or works in the District is aware that too many children are on the streets when they should be in school and they are out too late at night when they should be inside. Truancy and curfew laws have proven to be ineffective ways to make children do what children should do - go to school.

Responsible parenting cannot be legislated either, and the fact is that even "good" parents can have truant kids. We believe the education conversation must change. All the fuss over bad schools, bad tests, bad teachers, bad school leaders and not enough resources to make things better does not make school a good place to be - for anyone.