Local: Education

DC officials tracking freshmen to fight truancy

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner
District officials are studying 120 high school freshmen on the verge of becoming "chronic truants" to figure out why students are cutting class -- and how to stop them.

"Truancy is almost always symptomatic of deeper issues in the community or at home," Mayor Vincent Gray said on Wednesday as he announced the seven-agency effort with Deputy Mayor for Education De'Shawn Wright. "By identifying the District's most truant students, we are also identifying the families that are in needs of services, or families that are already receiving services but not receiving them in the most coordinated manner."

Wright said that D.C. Public Schools and six other agencies, including D.C. Child and Family Services and the Department of Health, will examine the 120 students for the remainder of the school year and into summer classes to flesh out the causes of each student's truancy and create an action plan.

The ninth-graders have racked up between five and 10 unexcused absences so far this school year at Southeast's Ballou and Anacostia high schools, and Northeast's Washington Mathematics and Science Technology Public Charter School.

Students who miss 15 or more days of school are "chronically truant" -- a label that 13 percent of secondary school students in the District currently share. The Metropolitan Police Department conducted more than 3,700 truancy pickups in the first semester alone. By March, students had racked up another 1,000 pickups.

D.C. Public Schools refers students to D.C. Superior Court after 25 unexcused absences.

Wright told The Examiner that Ballou, Anacostia and WMST were chosen because in addition to absences, the police caught more of these schools' students committing crimes while skipping school.

"Our single biggest issue with truants right now is burglars," MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said at a recent hearing on truancy and school safety.

Members of the city council have introduced legislation to encourage businesses to report suspected truants, as well as to beef up mental health directives to fight the underlying causes of truancy.

"We're going to test some of the theories behind what they proposed," Wright said.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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