Reducing Truancy Described as Community Responsibility

2/27/2013, 11:22 a.m.

The Rev. Anthony Motley knows a thing or two about being truant.

"I was a truant twice. The first time after I got home, the truant officer was sitting in my living room," the retired educator told his amused audience. "The second time after I skipped, the next day my pastor was sitting in my classroom," he said to resounding laughter.

But having people other than his mother - who worked a full-time job admonish the mischievous youth for his indifference toward school, not only embarrassed him, it made Motley realize the seriousness of his actions.

"We've got to go into these homes. We've got to sit with these parents," said Motley, whose sentiments were shared by the diverse crowd of more than 100 people. Despite the cold winds and steady rain, teachers, ministers, parents, students and community activists showed up Feb. 23 at Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast with their attention focused on one thing: the truancy crisis in the District.

"Truancy is a complicated issue . . . however, it's a core value that also affects graduation rates," said panelist Ian Roberts, principal at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast, who added that truancy is most rampant among ninth-graders. Roberts said that among reasons cited for students' refusal to come to school are transportation issues and their parents' job schedules.

As a result of having to get younger siblings ready for school, older children are often late, which in many cases has led to truancy, he said.

The two-hour forum was sponsored by the Hillcrest Civic Association and moderated by president, De'Andre Anderson. Other panelists for the meeting that attracted primarily residents from the affluent Hillcrest community where Mayor Vincent C. Gray and othercity officialslive, included DistrictFamily Court Judge Zoe Bush, D.C. Council member David Catania(I-At-Large), Beers Elementary counselor Jeffrey Brown, and Adele Fabrikant, who participated on behalf of Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Truancy generally begins at the middle school level, and in D.C., students who miss at least 10 days of unexcused absences are classified as truant.

However, among the 2,000 students who are marked truant each day, a growing number are enrolled in elementary schools.

"It starts at that level, [increasing by] grade six and getting worse by the ninth-grade," Fabrikant said.

Fabrikant also emphasized that reducing truancy is a shared responsibility, and that the chancellor is fully committed to providing resources needed to reduce the numbers.

Stating that the school day for D.C. students begins at 8:45 a.m. until 3:15 p.m., Fabrikant said there are specific guidelines school officials have to abide by in determining excused and unexcused absences.

She said however, that students who miss at least 60 percent of the school day will receive an unexcused absence for the entire day; and parents of students with five unexcused absences will be asked to participate in a truancy conference. Elementary and middle school students with 10 unexcused absences will be referred to the District's Family and Child Services Agency for suspected educational neglect, and from there cases can endup in court.