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The D.C. Council today gave initial approval to a bill that would crack down on endemic truancy in D.C. public schools.
Under the provisions of the bill, which was introduced by Council member David Catania (I-At Large), a parent of a student with 10 unexcused absences would receive a letter from the Metropolitan Police Department informing them of potential penalties for further days missed. After 15 unexcused absences, the student's name would be sent to the city's Attorney General and Court Social Services, both of which could take action.
Under existing law, a student above the age of 13 has to accrue 25 unexcused absences before a referral occurs, though that number was set to drop to 20 absences in the 2014-15 school year.
According to data compiled by Catania's office, 40 percent of students at the city's four largest public schools had more than 20 unexcused absences in 2012. At Roosevelt High School in Ward 4, almost half of the 461 students hit that mark. High truancy rates tracked with low test scores, he said—45 percent of students at Anacostia High School in Ward 8 had more than 20 unexcused absences last year, while proficiency rates only hit 14.5 percent.
An initial version of the bill introduced by Catania would have allowed the city to use the threat of imprisonment for parents of truant students, but those provisions were dropped after Mayor Vince Gray, fellow legislators and school advocates objected. Gray supports the current version of the bill, and the council will vote on it for a second and final time on June 4.