Hearing on Truancy Legislation: 1/21/16

The education committee of the city council (along with the committee of the whole council) is holding a hearing on proposed legislation to change the definition of truancy in DC public schools. The hearing will be held on Thursday, January 21 at 9:30 am at the Wilson Building; sign up by Tuesday 1/19/16 with Jessica Giles at (202) 724-8061 or jgiles@dccouncil.us.

The legislation, B21-0508 (ironically titled “School Attendance Clarification Amendment Act of 2015”), aims to amend current school attendance law to, among other things, require schools to get written explanations for all absences; require only a full day’s absence to count as an absence; and give schools more latitude in granting unexcused absences during the last 10 days of the school year.

Expect a hearing filled with strong opinions.

In the comments section of the Post article on this legislation, state board of education member Joe Weedon noted that the council legislation seems to go against the entire purpose of the state board, which approves rules for enforcing attendance requirements–and cited the board’s determination to study the issue throughly.

Which the board did in spring 2015, in a report whose title seemed to beg someone to hold a hearing asap (“Challenges Associated with Implementation of the District of Columbia’s New Compulsory Attendance Laws and Recommendations for Addressing Them”).

As with so much analysis of DC public education, the board determined that how DC public school attendance policies are implemented, and their success, is in the eyes of the beholder:

“DCPS, PCSB [public charter school board], and OSSE data show declines in rates of chronic truancy across schools throughout the District since the implementation of the 80/20 rule [which the new legislation would amend]. Strong assertions by the school-based leaders and personnel spoke to the contrary.”

While one can conclude that the proposed legislation is responding to those “strong assertions” by school-based leaders, there may be some missing pieces.

For one, the state board made several mandates, including calling for the office of the state superintendent (OSSE) to “investigate the challenges and inconsistent findings reported by school-based administrators in the recordation of student absences and tardies based on the 80/20 rule” by August 30, 2015.

In addition, the board called on OSSE to conduct research around the 80/20 rule and investigate what other jurisdictions do regarding truancy, reporting back by December 31, 2015.

According to Weedon, neither was done.

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