To Improve Public Safety and Student Outcomes, Councilmember Allen Introduces Bill to Reduce Chronic Truancy

Today, DC Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced legislation to keep students in school and lower the District’s alarmingly high rates of chronic absenteeism and truancy by focusing resources on the school communities with the highest rates of absenteeism.

There are 13 high schools in DC where a majority of students are chronically truant, with 11 of them hitting rates above 70 percent.

“Missing class consistently is alarming in itself, but it’s often the canary in the coal mine for serious issues like being involved in a violent incident or deep educational or behavioral health issues that can become lifelong challenges,” said Councilmember Allen. “Our kids need to be in class, and schools need to be resourced to do the hard work of providing at-risk children with a safe and welcoming environment. Some students and their educators are just going to need a lot more than we’re giving them, and it can’t continue to be piecemeal.”

According to recent, alarming data from DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education, three in five high school students in DC are chronically absent. Almost half of high school students were deemed truant, with unexcused absences for 10 full days over the course of a school year. Chronic absenteeism and truancy rates remain unacceptably high in the District, when compared to other school systems around the region that are also struggling with attendance.

The bill proposes providing principals of schools with high rates of absenteeism with more staff and resources, requires DCPS to intervene after five missed days in a marking period, and mandates schools with high rates of truancy have a safe passages program supporting them.

The Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy Reduction Act of 2024 proposes that:

  • Schools with a chronic absenteeism rate above 20% should be designated as priority areas for the Safe Passages Safe Blocks program by School Year 2027-2028. Unsafe commutes or neighborhood violence are often reasons why a student isn’t in school. The Safe Passages program includes highly visible, trained adults along routes in the morning and the afternoon, as well as conflict resolution, mediation services, and community relationship-building to keep students safe and improve student attendance. However, it doesn’t reach all the schools that need it.

  • A new additional funding category be added to school budgets specifically to address chronic absenteeism. Currently, the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, the metric used to calculate school budgets does not provide funding to schools based on chronic absenteeism. The data bears out these schools, who have historically seen underinvestment, have the highest levels of chronic absenteeism. This makes sense, as these schools are often serving a higher percentage of children coming from unstable situations outside of school walls that demand a more substantive response than most schools need to provide.

  • Schools must meet and intervene with a student after accruing five unexcused absences in a marking period. This intervention must take place before referring the student to the Child and Family Services Agency or the Office of the Attorney General. Regulations currently require the School Support Team intervene with a student after five unexcused absences in one marking period. However, not every student gets an intervention meeting prior to be referred to CFSA or OAG. Setting the intervention point as a requirement before referral would make this existing intervention more effective. This must be paired with additional resources to ensure these interventions are happening.

  • School principals be given the authority to choose how to use additional at-risk or chronically absent funding allocated to the school. Currently, there is no transparency over how at-risk funding is used or how additional dollars for chronic absenteeism would be spent. These additional dollars are supplemental and should not be used to cover core costs. Principals know their schools and their students best and should be given the authority to allocate how these additional dollars are spent.

  • The Department of Human Services and the student’s school to submit status reports to each other on a student’s participation in a diversion program and attendance in school. This requirement is meant to ensure everyone involved with the child can understand what’s happening. Right now, referrals to DHS feel like they go into a black hole that make it harder to ensure these interventions are happening.

    • Currently, DCPS refers students who have 10 unexcused absences or more to DC’s Child and Family Services Agency if they are aged 5 to 13, or the Court Social Services Division of the Superior Court and the Office of the Attorney General, if the student is between ages 14 and 17 and has accumulated 15 unexcused absences. A minority of older students referred to OAG are sent to diversion programs run by OAG or DHS that target the root causes of truancy.

  • The Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement expand its Leadership Academy program to the top 5 high schools and corresponding feeder middle schools where the rate of chronic absenteeism is highest. The ONSE Leadership Academy pairs students struggling with attendance, behavior, and schoolwork challenges with professionals and mentors who help them through those with case management. While he was chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Councilmember Allen doubled the Leadership Academy at DC schools, but the program is still only at three high schools and their corresponding feeder middle schools.


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