Bill 24-428, School Attendance Amendment Act of 2021 and, more general Update on Improving School Attendance/Reducing Truancy and Chronic Absenteeism￼
Education Reform Now DC
Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers, and staff of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Minetre Martin. I am a ward four resident and Community Organizer for Education Reform Now DC. (“ERN DC”). ERN DC is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students.
Thank you, Chairman, and the DC Council for turning your attention to an important matter that has been fraught for too long, and that needs reforming. I am happy to provide testimony on how we can improve school attendance since clarifying our attendance policies is just the beginning to solving DC public school truancy issues. Chronic absenteeism effects academic achievement and student well-being. There are many factors that may contribute to poor attendance such as student mental health issues and a lack of student support personnel. Therefore, the DC Council should consider more context regarding accurate attendance reporting and the following questions should be asked;
- How are substitute teachers being trained to report absences?
On average, 25 percent of DC public school teachers leave their school annually. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a higher shortage in teachers in the district, increasing needs for substitutes who may lack professional training, awareness of attendance policies, and unfamiliarity with students in the building. For example, a parent in ward 6 recently shared with me that their child’s substitute teacher confused their child with another student resulting in them having to attend court to defend themselves against inaccurate attendance reporting. Mistakes like these are not okay, and as schools rush to fill classrooms with substitutes, it is important for the DC State Board of Education and the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to investigate how schools are preparing substitute teachers to report student attendance with fidelity for accuracy in data and most importantly to protect our students and families and maintain their trust
- What is the district doing to ensure that there are accurate and robust early warning indicators that inform parents of absences in a timely manner at all schools?
In another check in with parents in ward 6, they expressed concerns with not being made aware of their child’s absences immediately. Two parents shared that they received an automated call notifying them that their child missed over 40 days of school. When asked if their child’s teacher or the school ever tried to contact them, they all said no and that the attendance counselor failed to review the inaccurate reporting until they visited the school. Another parent revealed that their child informed them that their homeroom teachers were often late, resulting in attendance not being taken. Our families cannot afford these kinds of mistakes, especially when they are having to take time off from work to address these problems. DCPS and charter schools have a duty to be relentless in maintaining families’ trust and keeping students safe, that includes being keenly aware of their daily attendance and taking immediate action to contact parents when students are absent.
- How does diminished student well-being impact school attendance reporting?
As you all are aware, student well-being has dramatically declined since the Covid-19 pandemic.While OSSE has done well to provide guidelines around school personnel training for mental health support, there does not seem to be guidelines around how attendance should be taken for students who may attribute their tardiness or early dismissal to mental health issues. This may also result in inaccurate attendance reporting and should be considered.
I offer two recommendations to help bolster student attendance for further consideration.
- Ensure that all public schools have a robust attendance management system in place to identify and provide appropriate support services and interventions to chronically absent students.
All DC public schools and charter schools should have a robust attendance management system in place for identifying and supporting pupils with attendance problems early. Schools should also train all teachers and substitute teachers on how to report attendance, and evaluate staff understanding of the school’s attendance policies and management system. While DC public schools and charter schools have made compliance with attendance a priority, the reality is that staff responsible for reporting attendance have many other duties that make it challenging for them to commit their full attention to ensure attendance is reported with fidelity. By following these recommendations, schools can ensure that students with truancy issues are identified early, and appropriate support can be provided.
- Ensure that every school staff includes a variety of specialized support personnel such as school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, or other pupil support personnel for case management and counseling.
According to the DC Policy Center’s 2022 State of D.C. Schools report, nearly half of students designated as at-risk were chronically absent.The Mayor and the DC Council should raise the at-risk weight of the uniform per student funding formula to .37 so that schools can provide adequate school staff and support to students. Additionally, the Mayor and DC Council should build on past years’ investments in the School-Based Behavioral Health (SBBH) program because mental health plays a large role in chronic absenteeism. With these investments and more, our elected leaders will ensure that investments are being made to provide critical services to schools to help increase their capacity for supporting students with chronic absenteeism.
Clarifying school attendance policies are a start to improving our student attendance rates. However, ensuring schools have a robust attendance management system in place and increasing investments in our schools can help to improve attendance, engagement, and overall academic achievement.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I welcome any questions you may have.
 American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association October 19, 2021, available at: Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health
 2021 State of D.C. Schools Report. https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/SODCS-2020-21-one-pager_final.pdf?mc_cid=8c78509f36&mc_eid=bb7c8338aa
 Recommended level based on the 2014 Adequacy study. https://dme.dc.gov/page/dc-education-adequacy-study