Local: Education

D.C. mayor's office opposes David Catania's truancy bill

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Local,DC,Education,Eric P. Newcomer,D.C. Council,Vincent Gray

The District's attorney general voiced the Gray administration's opposition to a bill that would impose up to five days in jail for parents whose children habitually miss school.

During a public hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Irvin Nathan called the Attendance Accountability Amendment Act of 2013 "ill-considered and seriously flawed."

Nathan said the District's executive branch does not believe new legislation is necessary.

However, he did not dispute council members' bleak depictions of the city's truancy problem.

"The numbers are extraordinary, aren't they?" Councilwoman Mary Cheh asked Nathan in one exchange.

For example, at-large Councilman David Catania said that as of Monday, more than a quarter of public school students have acquired 11 unexcused absences so far this school year.

Although Nathan agreed that the city has a truancy problem, he said the proposed legislation would put a "straitjacket" on the administration.

Catania's proposal would expand existing law to all children between ages 5 and 17. The bill would require the attorney general to notify parents when a minor has 10 unexcused absences, and then when a student has 20 unexcused absences authorities could fine parents, impose community service or parenting classes. If absences repeat, parents could face jail time, unless they certify to the state that they are unable to make get their child go to school.

Brenda Donald, director of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, testified that the bill could cost the city $4.4 million to implement. That figure drew some skepticism from some council members.

The attorney general's remarks came after hours of testimony from more than two dozen members of the public, the vast majority of whom criticized at least part of the proposal.

Even before Nathan and Donald spoke, some council members had already indicated their concerns about the bill during the proceedings.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry stated his opposition to the bill, asking instead what the city would do to better hold teachers and school administrators responsible for school absences. Barry said jailing parents would not help.

"Who is going to take care of their kids while they're locked up?" he asked.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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