Staffing Reductions Hamper Efforts to Curb Truancy in DC

It’s not unreasonable to ask how seriously Washington D.C. Public Schools take the problem of truancy when the district lays off a number of attendance counselors and fails to keep track of the number of children arrested by the police for missing school. According to a report by the office of Inspector General Charles Willoughby, the lack of consistent policies across the district meant that there was no uniformity to how schools responded to unexcused absences by students.

The report, which looked mainly at the data from the 2009-10 school year, said that reducing the number of truancy counselors from at least three district high schools with the worst attendance problems undercut the district’s supposed commitment to addressing the issue.

“In fact, the attendance counselor at Cardozo [Senior High School] had to rely on employees working for the Department of Parks and Recreation … to conduct home visits because she did not have enough time to conduct them during the day,” Willoughby wrote.

“Instead of arbitrarily assigning one or two employees to handle day-to-day truancy matters at each school,” DCPS should consider student enrollment and the school’s truancy statistics when assigning staff, Willoughby urged.

Nearly 40% of the district’s high school students are considered chronically truant, meaning they have at least 15 unexcused absences during the school year. At the three high schools covered in the report, McKinley Technology, H.D. Woodson and Anacostia, 60% of the student body was classified as chronically truant.

Melissa Salmanowitz, the spokeswoman for the district, said that additional social workers were hired to to work at the schools with the worst absenteeism rates. In a formal response to the IG’s report, DCPS admitted that staffing issues were hindering its efforts to enforce student attendance at school, but said that there were several schools that lacked the means to enforce rigorous truancy policies due to the large percentage of students requiring intervention.

School staff also disagreed with Willoughby’s recommendation to track the number of truant students picked up by the police and brought to school midday. Officials said this summer that the data system does not allow for them to note this and that sometimes students who are truant are marked as at school.

The IG investigation is just the latest shot across of bow of DCPS. Earlier this month a report released by the Inspector General’s office found several instances of testing-integrity irregularities at one of the district’s middle schools. Although the report concluded that the information uncovered didn’t warrant intervention from law enforcement officers, it did note that the environment at the Noyes Education Campus was often cited by teachers who were involved in the cheating as the reason why they did it.

08 21, 2012
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