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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Lawmakers Propose Solutions Amid Citywide Truancy Crisis

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed legislation to curb DC’s truancy rates April 3, on the heels of Council Members Robert White, Zachary Parker, and Charles Allen’s own legislation addressing attendance. || @ZacharyforWard5 on X

Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed her plan for curbing truancy rates in Washington, D.C. after city lawmakers announced a wave of incoming legislation surrounding school attendance April 3. 

The proposed bills come amid the release of the District’s annual attendance report for 2022-23, which reveals 37% of students are chronically truant, meaning they have 10 or more unexcused absences during the school year- a slight decrease from the previous year’s 42%. The proposed bills limit the need for parent prosecution in favor of connecting families with resources and streamlining reporting efforts. 

Leila Peterson, executive director of School Talk, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for restorative justice-centered reform in D.C. schools, said much of the work around curbing truancy in the District calls for rebuilding connections with students that were lost during the pandemic. 

“I think it’s trying to both focus on reconnecting and creating community and relationships because a lot of communities and relationships and everything really got ruptured during COVID,” Peterson told The Hoya.

Bowser’s UPLIFT Amendment Act, as well as the Students Amendment Act put forth March 28 by Councilmember Zachary Parker, would require that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) initially refer all cases of truancy to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for a public health-centered approach. Currently, cases of children under 13 are directed toward the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), which investigates parents for neglect in cases of truancy, and children over 14 are directed toward the Office of the Attorney General for referral to youth diversion programs. 

Similarly, Councilmember Charles Allen’s Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy Reduction Act would require that schools hold intervention meetings with students after they accrue five unexcused absences before referring them to CFSA. 

Kait Delaney (CAS ’26), an education, inquiry and justice minor who volunteers with preschool and middle school students in the Southeast quadrant, said intervention efforts should be prioritized before prosecuting parents. 

“We need to be understanding and forgiving of the fact that not every student has the capabilities to be getting all their absences excused and our students are people and they have lives,” Delaney said. “Things happen, life happens and I feel like we need to find a middle ground between regulating it to make sure students aren’t missing out on too much school while still being forgiving.” 

DHS’s diversion program, Alternatives to the Court Experience (ACE), provides community support and services rather than prosecution to teens. 

Bowser has said that moving cases from the CFS to the DHS is essential to solving issues that prevent students from getting to school such as access to food, transportation and housing.

“This is about working together as a community to put meaningful interventions in place that better support young people and their families,” Bowser said in a press release. 

Faith Specter (SFS ’26), a tutor for D.C. Schools Project who teaches English to immigrant children from Venezuela, said the lives of her students are often highly unpredictable due to the erratic movements of temporary housing, which leads to other commitments and needs taking priority over school.

“When you’re in that situation, school is not going to be your primary focus, because, you know, I don’t know if I’m going to be evicted tomorrow. I don’t know what I’m going to eat, and it’s not going to be the primary focus of my attention all the time,” Spector told The Hoya. 

Parker’s legislation would expand the current set of excusable absences to include threats of violence, serious illness of a family member, housing displacement and court proceedings. 

Lenah Hong (SFS ’26), a tutor with the D.C. Schools Project who teaches English to Spanish speakers in a D.C. elementary school, said many of the parents whose children frequently miss sessions do not have the resources to provide transportation home from the programming, resulting in them not going at all. 

“Other times, it could be related to transportation issues. For example, maybe they don’t have a parent who is available to pick them up at that time because they’re working, or if they have siblings who pick them up, they’re in school at that time so they can’t pick them up,” Hong told The Hoya. 

Another hurdle preventing students from attending school is personal safety, as the District’s juvenile crime rates are the highest since the 1990s. 

Clare Tourtelotte (CAS ’27), an after-school tutor with the Georgetown Center for Social Justice, said that student attendance is often erratic because of factors like long commutes to the school, caring for siblings and a lack of safety at school. 

“Some girls don’t get along and they don’t totally always feel safe at their school,” Tourtelotte told The Hoya. 

Peterson said that holding students accountable should be done by relationship building rather than punishment. 

“Accountability doesn’t come from punishment. Accountability comes from relationships,” Peterson said. “If we feel like we’re part of a community that has expectations of us, we feel like we trust because, the biggest thing for trust is, ‘Do people care about me, understand me and know my needs?,’ then that is what actually gives us true accountability.”

This article was updated April 6 to reflect that the lawmaker’s actions come amid a slight fall in District wide truancy rates. 

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