Barras: DCPS kicks students out the door

Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Can you believe DCPS is kicking children out of school after being tardy for 20 days? The new attendance policy targets only out-of-boundary students, however. That's discriminatory.

Could this be DCPS' response to the pressure it's under at certain schools to provide more seats to neighborhood families?

"Being an out-of-boundary student is not a right," said Melissa Salmanowitz, DCPS' spokeswoman. It's "an accommodation" requiring students "adhere to the school and DCPS policies."

Actually, the out-of-boundary system is indisputable evidence of DCPS' historic and continued failure to provide each child a quality education at his or her neighborhood school. An attendance policy assaulting out-of-boundary students is added injury.

"Every policy is grounded in what is in the best interest of students," Salmanowitz asserted.

That's questionable.

The policy is implemented -- apparently without a formal appeals process -- at principals' discretion. DCPS didn't know how many children have been affected citywide. One school had "156 students with unexcused absences or tardies." Many children learned as school was closing they couldn't return.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who oversees DCPS, said a series of interventions are supposed to be provided, and only when the distance a child travels is the primary basis for tardiness should a child be returned to the neighborhood school.

"The rule may be reasonable," Mendelson continued. "But implementation may be arbitrary, punitive and retaliatory. DCPS has proved it is insensitive to due process."

Consider Althea Forrester and Howard Wilson. Their daughter, who is a good student, attended Bancroft Elementary; it's walking distance from their home. She is asthmatic and has been twice treated for pneumonia. They admitted she has been tardy several times -- not 47 days as Bancroft's principal, Zakiya Reid, claimed.

"She usually is going through the door at 8:50 or 9 o'clock; breakfast is still being eaten in the classroom," explained Wilson. When his daughter had doctors' appointments, he notified the school.

After receiving a second "form letter," he asked the classroom teacher for an explanation. She told him attendance was being handled by the "office." A staffer there referred him back to the classroom teacher.

"[Bancroft] teachers take attendance, then report information to the registrar;" that information is entered into DCPS' computerized system and "cross-referenced with the tardy sign-in sheet," said Salmanowitz.

Interestingly, as PTA president, Wilson met several time with Reid; she never mentioned any problem with his daughter's attendance. But two days before the June 14 closing of school, Reid scheduled a meeting with Wilson and his wife. They assumed it was to discuss their daughter's tardiness. Shockingly, at the conclusion, Reid presented a previously prepared letter kicking their daughter out of Bancroft.

They alerted others in their school community, Mendelson and Councilman Jim Graham. Unsurprisingly, last week, DCPS sought to resolve the problem. "We recognize there are always going to be extenuating circumstances," said Salmanowitz.

"Every child who has been kicked out doesn't have a parent like me," said Wilson. "These are children they are treating this way."

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at

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