Apr 8, 2024 - News

D.C. has a new proposal to go hard on truancy

Illustration of a spotlight shining on an empty school desk facing a wall by itself.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A proposed crackdown on truancy in D.C. would bring stricter enforcement from the attorney general and more responsibility from families of students who repeatedly cut class.

Why it matters: Truancy worsened in the pandemic and resulted in 60% of high schoolers being chronically absent last year.

Zoom in: Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to replace the city's existing truancy programs with new rules. Families with students who accumulate excessive unexcused absences will be referred to the Department of Human Services (10 missed days for younger students, 15 for older).

  • The aim is for DHS — which manages social services programs — to intervene and remind families of the importance of school attendance, in addition to offering housing or food assistance if needed.
  • Older students who miss up to 25 days of class would be referred to the AG's office. Prosecutors would be required to mandate referral to a school attendance program, bring DHS to hold a meeting with the student and their family, or explore court diversion programs.

The big picture: D.C. is focusing on getting students back in schools especially as youth violence has increased.

  • The mayor's bill couples truancy measures with stricter prosecutions of young people who commit crimes with a gun or another dangerous weapon.
  • Attorney General Brian Schwalb's office has previously said it doesn't think the city can prosecute its way out of the truancy problem, the Washington Post notes.

What's next: The D.C. Council will take up the legislation over the next month as it also acts on Bowser's budget, which proposes funding DHS with new staff for anti-truancy efforts.

Catch up fast: Chronic absenteeism improved slightly by 4 percentage points among high schoolers between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

  • But it's still up 9 percentage points since before the pandemic.
  • It's worst among seniors and freshmen. Thirty-seven percent of seniors missed at least 20% of schooling last year. For freshmen, the rate was 41%.
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