For Immediate Release: 
December 1, 2015
Contact: Darby Hickey
(202) 724-8105

Grosso Introduces Bill to Improve School Attendance

Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso and Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced the “School Attendance Clarification Amendment Act of 2015.” This legislation amends the District of Columbia’s compulsory school attendance laws based on lessons learned from the implementation of the South Capitol Street Memorial Amendment Act of 2012 and the Attendance Accountability Act of 2013. Many elements of the bill came from the work of the interagency Truancy Taskforce, which has been meeting over the past year to improve D.C.’s response to school attendance.

In addition to clarifying agency responsibilities and attendance reporting requirements, this legislation would require schools to obtain a written explanation verifying the reason for an absence within five days after a student’s return to school. It would also prohibit the suspension, expulsion or unenrollment of a minor covered by D.C.’s compulsory attendance requirement due to an unexcused absence or late arrival to school.

This legislation takes steps to decriminalize school absence by amending the protocol for law enforcement officers who come in contact with a minor they believe to be truant, and amending educational institutions’ referral requirements to Child and Family Services Administration (CFSA), the Court Social Services Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CSS), and the Office of the Attorney General after a minor accrues a certain number of unexcused absences. This builds upon emergency and temporary legislation the Council passed earlier this year to address the unintended consequences of the so-called “80/20 rule,” which resulted in young people being referred to CFSA and CSS for educational neglect when they were simply tardy.

“We have had important discussions with DCPS and charter schools leaders, as well as relevant government agencies, to determine what’s working and what’s not when it comes to student attendance,” Grosso said. “Suspending or expelling a student due to tardiness or unexcused absences is not likely to result in improved attendance. We all agree that students need to attend school daily in order to succeed academically—these kinds of policies run counter to that. I think we need a public conversation about how to best support our students, and families, to significantly improve school attendance.”

“This legislation will enable our government to continue the progress towards reducing truancy,” said Chairman Mendelson. “Most people think of truancy as an educational issue, which it is, but it also is an indicator of children at risk for entering the juvenile justice system. For these two reasons it must continue to be our priority to tackle truancy.”