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February 12, 2013
Executive director Judith Sandalow testified before DC Council's Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education on truancy, which the Attendance Accountability Amendment Act seeks to address. Read a summary below or review the full testimony as submitted to the committees.
Truancy is being addressed not only by the Council, but also the Truancy Taskforce, which has implemented two small-scale programs in the District, the Truancy Court Diversion Program (now in six middle schools) and the Case Management Partnership Intervention (in seven high schools, where 50% of truant students are enrolled). Children's Law Center encourages continued use of these and other programs that focus on the underlying causes of a student's absences and connect students and their families to appropriate resources. Working with so many children and families over many years, Children's Law Center has seen that children are truant for a wide variety of reasons, and understanding all of the factors that lead to truancy is necessary to craft successful interventions.
In her testimony, Sandalow suggested changes to the bill, including moving a referral proposal from DC's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) to the Department of Human Services or the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. CFSA is not the best agency to serve this function, according to her testimony. "Research shows that the positive effects of reporting educational neglect fades as children grow older," the testimony reads. "That finding makes intuitive sense – when a first grader misses a significant number of days of school, something is likely going on with her family. But when a 13-17 year old misses school, it often has to do with issues beyond the parents’ control – a teenager’s struggle to learn or feel engaged in school, or a mental health issue, dating violence or neighborhood safety. Of course, these are all serious issues that need to be addressed, but CFSA – an agency designed to deal with abuse and neglect by parents – is not well-positioned to address them."
Sandalow also suggested modifications to the mandatory prosecution provision in the current draft of the bill. The threat of going to court may be motivating when a parent is not engaged or unwilling to help solve the truancy of his or her child, but in Children's Law Center's experience this is only a small fraction of the population - by and large, parents want their children to attend school, and seek help (including from Children's Law Center) to help achieve better attendance.
“The Children’s Law Center has been a real comfort to me. It’s fair to say that things really turned for the better for us because of the law center.”