Good morning. The time is now 10:00 am and I am calling this joint hearing of the Committee on Education and the Committee of the Whole to order.

My name is Councilmember David Grosso, chairman of the Committee on Education. Today is January 21, 2016 and we are in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building. We are gathered today for a hearing on Bill 21-508, the “School Attendance Clarification Amendment Act of 2015.” I introduced this legislation along with Chairman Mendelson.

Over the past year, the interagency Truancy Taskforce has been meeting to discuss ways to better streamline our approach to truancy and boost overall student attendance. We’ve evaluated data, researched best practices, reviewed our current laws, policies, and practices for attendance, and are close to agreeing to a robust strategic plan in this area.

This legislation amends the District of Columbia’s compulsory school attendance laws to make changes based on the interagency lessons learned over the past two years.

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

This legislation also takes steps to decriminalize school attendance by amending the protocol for law enforcement officers who come in contact with a minor they believe to be truant and amending educational institution’s referral requirement for CFSA, Court Social Services, 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 80/20 attendance rule, which has accounted for young people being referred to CFSA and CSS for educational neglect when in reality they have just been tardy.

As I have said before, chronic absenteeism and chronic tardiness are inherently different. They generally have different causes and students are in need of different interventions. The key word here is intervention. We know from data that introducing students to the juvenile justice system for tardiness or absenteeism is not an effective intervention. We also know that suspending or expelling a student for not showing up to school is not particularly effective in getting them to change behavior and actually come to school more often.

Students need to attend school daily in order to succeed academically, and this legislation attempts to better align our laws with this belief. I admit that this legislation is not perfect. In my ideal world, we would be getting rid of referrals to Court Social Services altogether in favor of effective intervention and diversion programs that has the capacity to serve the volume of students in need of those services. But, I believe this legislation presents a strong step in the right direction.

I want to thank you all for being here today. I will now turn to my colleague who is co-chairing along with me for an opening statement.