Truancy in District Poses Uphill Battle

Dorothy Rowley | 5/4/2011, 6:24 p.m.
Part One in a Two Part Series...
District officials recommend training programs rather than processing truant students at police stations. / Courtesy photo

Part One in a Two Part Series

Truancy among students in the District is a serious issue, and with about one in seven high school students attending classes only about three times a week, the problem isn't getting any better.

School attendance in D.C. is required for any child who reaches age five on or before December 31 and they must attend classes until their 18th birthday. However, students under 18 are listed as truant after several incidences of unexcused absences.

Recent reports have stated that as many as 2,000 students a day are reported truant in the District. Some of the reasons include domestic issues, bullying and lack of transportation.

"But, I think that most of the kids who are not attending simply don't like school or they just aren't doing well in their classes," said D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large).

"Instead of bringing them back to school or processing them at a police station, I suggest sending them to a job training program."

In suggesting that the District Department of Employment Services (DOES) take a leading role reducing truancy among habitual offenders, Brown, 46, said that placement in job training projects would provide students an opportunity to engage in activities that actually interests them.

Truancy is already on DOES' radar, and Gerren Price, the agency's associate director of youth programs, embraced Brown's recommendation. He said that many of the students the agency works with year-round had been at risk for dropping out.

"I think that a lot of times, truancy is due to a lack of public support that the kids aren't getting," Price said.

He said that as a result, DOES plans on "revamping services in the new fiscal year" that will improve the way the agency administers programs that are geared toward youth.

Price said DOES is also poised to work with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system to develop other measures for eradicating truancy.

"We're beginning to have those kinds of conversations," he said. "We're not ahead of the curve, but we're trying to get there."

Truancy usually occurs around the time students begin middle school and if not dealt with, leads to high drop outs rates.

In the District of Columbia, five days of unexcused absences in any one advisory period will warrant a parent conference. Ten days unexcused absences will warrant immediate referral to Child and Family Services. Fifteen days of unexcused absences will warrant a truancy court referral.

Last year a study commissioned by Education Week found that in 2006, more District students dropped out of high school than those who graduated.

Mary Filardo, executive director of the District-based 21st Century School Fund in Northwest, said the organization is working on truancy issues that primarily relate to secondary education.She said thatspecific emphasis has been placed on Ballou, Cardozo and Roosevelt high schools.

Filardo also referred to a focus group study and surveys 21st Century conducted in 2010 at Roosevelt High School in Northwest which discovered an array of reasons for unexcused absences - including chronic teen illnesses and students being responsible for getting siblings off to school only to end up missing classes themselves.