Absenteeism is a growing issue for children in the District of Columbia, with nearly half of the city’s high school students considered chronically truant. However, a student is considered absent if they are tardy for 20% of the school day which contributes to the high number. Social services and truancy court are involved after 10-15 unexcused absences. However, city agencies are unable to meet that demand and there is concern whether children who are tardy need this level of intervention.

To address these issues, the Council of the District of Columbia recently introduced the School Attendance Clarification Amendment Act of 2015. Dr. Ankoor Shah, Advocacy Chairperson for the DC AAP, testified on behalf of the chapter at a recent hearing on the bill.  DC AAP supports multiple provisions in this bill, such as prohibiting suspension or expulsion based solely on absences.  This is in keeping with the national AAP Policy Statement: Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion.  The DC Chapter also agrees that children suspected of truancy should be returned to school rather than to truancy centers; thereby removing a criminal justice mentality from school and education.

However, the Chapter is concerned that merely changing the definition of an absence from 20% of the day to a full day might make the District’s absentee metrics appear better without addressing any of the underlying causes of truancy. Instead, DC AAP believes the District should take a more comprehensive, inter-agency approach to tackle the upstream causes of absenteeism including health, community safety, housing and transportation, to name a few.