DC Public Schools officials have referred 96 students who are 13 or younger to child-protective services for missing 10 or more days of school this fall without an excuse, Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Thursday.
The move represents a "culture shift" within DC Public Schools on truancy, as the school system in the past largely ignored the city law that requires them to alert the Child and Family Services Agency when an elementary or middle school student is chronically truant. Last year, only 21 percent of those students were referred by DCPS; this year, the 96 referred students represent a 95 percent compliance rate.
In high schools, where the school system must alert the courts when a student misses 25 days without an excuse, the referral rate has jumped from 7 percent to 82 percent.
"The simple fact that someone other than a teacher or principal is calling is making parents take note in a way they haven't before," Henderson told the D.C. Council at a hearing on truancy reduction efforts Thursday.
Unexcused absences have fallen this school year. The number of students with 10 to 19 unexcused absences dropped from 627 by November 2011 to 243 so far this year.
But while D.C. Council members applauded Henderson for making the city law a reality -- mainly by explaining to principals that most students would not be removed from their homes -- others pushed for more accountability measures for parents.
At-large Councilman David Catania questioned why D.C. did not criminally prosecute the parents of truant children. Per city law, a parent can be fined $100 and hit with five days of jail time if a child misses two days of school without an excuse.
He said he did not believe two days should warrant an arrest but sought to set a larger number of absences such as 15 or 20.
Cory Chandler, the deputy attorney general of family services, said she did not believe that the threat of criminal prosecution for parents had been linked to increased attendance but that she would bring it up with Attorney General Irvin Nathan.
"Why shouldn't the parent have a consequence just as serious as if the child is being beaten by the parent? [In both cases], they're scarred as a result," Catania said. "But what you are allowed to do is sentence a child to a life of diminished expectations, and no one thinks that's serious enough to hold parents accountable."