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Let's Choose tackles school truancy this week

DC might criminally charge parents whose kids miss school. Is that the right approach? What else should DC do about truancy? This week, Let's Choose DC asked the at-large candidates this question:

Photo by matthileo on Flickr.
Last year DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that DC schools are suffering from a "truancy crisis." The DC Council is now debating a bill that would increase penalties on parents for kids who chronically miss school. Should parents be held to account for when their kids miss school? How can DC ensure that students attend school consistently?

Let's Choose DC is a partnership between Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville which aims to educate voters about candidates' positions for the April 23 race for DC Council at-large. This week, we got responses from Matthew Frumin, Perry Redd, John Settles, Elissa Silverman, and Paul Zukerberg.

John Settles has been removed from the ballot after a successful challenge to his nominating petition signatures left him short of the required number. Paul Zukerberg also faced a challenge, but survived; he denounced the process and competitor Elissa Silverman, whose supporter filed both challenges.

Sadly, Patrick Mara (who serves on the State Board of Education and has made education a significant part of his platform), Anita Bonds, and Michael Brown did not respond to the question this week.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Patrick Mara, the education candidate.


by William on Feb 26, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

Somewhat underwhelming. While I agree with the general stance all respondents took on the issue, none of them had any semblance of actual ways to tackle the issue.

by Alan B. on Feb 26, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

Well at least Silverman knows how to play hardball. But since she's thrown my top contender off the ballot, I will throw all my support behind Frumin.

WRT the question, this has to be the worst group of responses to any question yet. They're just horrible and make clear that not one of them bothered to study details of the plan...other than what they grabbed from headlines.

At what point in the plan does Catania suggest jail time? Or did he suggest forcing the parents to do community service/volunteer at their child's school. People kill me w/their "sob sad stories" of the child w/the dysfunctional families. Why did not one respondent tackle the "parenting" question? "Parents working hard" is absolutely NOT an answer to why you can't make sure your roque child ain't in school.

Bullying really is a big issue. But Frumin's introduction of it as an item seriously contributing to our truancy problem is ridiculous. If Perry's anecdote really isn't described, then don't present it in this answer because it too is ridiculous. Who in the hell CARES to hear Silverman whine about "kids taking care of sick parents?" I know for a fact I don't care to hear of this excuse-making as an answer. And Zuckerberg's swan song talking about Rose Barris' own problems at home w/her truant brother is just as ridiculous as her response to the proposal. Even SHE says her brother skipped school and is now a ne'er-do-well. Imagine if her mom was held responsible for her poor parenting.


I'm conceding that I might have missed the "jail" portion of a subsequent Catania proposal but this alarmist stuff is 100%, absolutely, w/o a doubt, trough load of bullcrap.

by HogWash on Feb 26, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Apparently, when truants (some of whom become criminals) are found on the streets, MPD gets involved with their special patrols and special vans and picks them up and takes them back to school. This system needs to be enhanced; it works.

(The DeeCee govt has enough trouble addressing personal household dysfunction; it can barely address it's own DC Council dysfunction and corruption.)

Get the kids back to school each and every day. Those who don't have responsible parents or who wont go to school on their own, will need MPD to be more involved. After 3-5 UNEXCUSED absences (when neither parent or student have a rational credible reason for the absence), put them on GPS tracking devices until their track record improves. It's for their own good, and the community's, and it might just keep them and their families from addressing this in our dysfunctional courts -- which are a huge waste of time and money. Let the school principals have authority over this program. Leave the courts and their lawyers, who Mr Catania wants to enrich, out of the equation.

[Attn DC techie innovators: A truant oriented GPS system could give special access via smart phone or computer to principals, MPD and parents, to make sure they are being monitored if not in school.]

Ask local businesses not to sell anything (aside perhaps cough medicine) to unsupervised students during school hours. Or institute a punishable ban like those for tobacco and alcohol for businesses who do not comply.

It was odd that during the previous Ed Comm hearing on truancy that although MPD Asst Chief Diane Groomes took the time out of her busy schedule to sit through the entire hearing, she, as the the primary official responsible for patrol and school security issues, was not allowed or expected to address this issue. (And truancy doesn't seem to be a part of Chief Lanier's testimony before CM Wells' committee tomorrow.)

The more days these students are outside of school, the more likely they will be wasting tax dollars and further ruining their lives being incarcerated in jail or prison. Let's make the effort to keep them in school. Punishing bad parents, wont make them better parents.

And somebody please tell candidate Paul Zukerberg that illness is a legitimate reason to be absent from school. If you can't comprehend the question or issues, you shouldn't be running for Council.

"A kid may be absent because of illness,.."

Catania's heart seems to be in the right place, but this attempt is poorly focussed at this point. He gets an A for taking the issue seriously, nonetheless.

by ShawingtonTimes on Feb 26, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

@ShawingtonTimes: I wanted to stand up and applaud at my desk when I read your suggestion for GPS trackers for excessively truant students.

Unfortunately, we all know lawsuits would be filed at the speed of light to stop such a practice. It'd be a big to-do, with editorials, firey testimonials at council session, demonstrations outside the courthouse and everything. If even half the energy on such a grandstanding response were put towards actually enforcing school attendance, we'd have a perfect record in this town.

I am sympathetic to segments of the community that feel there is no future for them in education because of a lack of opportunities in their community (I.e. no one I know has an education, so why should I? ; I always get bad grades, so why try?; I have on interest in the subjects, so why try?) Instead of just giving up and shrugging our shoulders, DC should work to ensure there are multiple paths for success in our schools for people of all skill sets and interests, via technical schools, applied learning opportunities, mentorship, etc. But I support Councilman Catania's effort to bring some kind of penalty to parents for truly egregious violators of attendance requirements.

by Adam on Feb 26, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

I may have missed this, but when did Settles drop out?

by Shipsa01 on Feb 26, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

Never mind - just read the post. Should have done that before clicking the link. :P

by Shipsa01 on Feb 26, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

+1 to Adam.

I will note that the proposed street car barn would provide one such opportunity, but some choose to pooh pooh that idea. The good news is that there are technical schools and other opportunities for DC kids. The collective "we" just need to be able to reach them and show them alternatives.

by William on Feb 26, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

I have a ton of respect for Catania shedding light on the serious problem of truancy in DCPS schools despite the potential for his proposal to be miscontrued like this. The legislation he is proposing means the parents will be prosecuted when the unexcused absences reaches 20 and even then, the parents only have to take a parenting class or perform some community service. 5 days of jail time only happens if the parents refuse to do either of those options.

by I. Rex on Feb 26, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

@MLD, thanks! For me, "jail time" didn't stand out as an issue since it was the last of last resorts. I just didn't see the need to lead w/the "jail time" argument.

by HogWash on Feb 26, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

I'm not blasting Shaw's idea but how much money must the city incur for doling out money to attach ankle bracelets to the 100's of juvenile delinquents. On its face, sounds like an expensive proposition requiring more resources than what we currently have.

by HogWash on Feb 26, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

Sadly, in our litigious society, some people may need to lawyer up just to get out of bed, but DIKigorosophobia is not a good reason for not pushing for new -- in this case, merely enhanced -- methods and solutions. Current, MPD involvement suggests that students of a certain age do not have a right to skip school w/o legitimate excuse.

If we left it up to the mamby pamby liberals and right wingnuts and their lawyers, we'd permit students to come and go as they feel like and give them free automatic weapons in case they get into trouble leaving the school gun free zone.

by ShawingtonTimes on Feb 26, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport


Not only does the system work, but the math works.

School-controlled GPS ankle bracelets are surely much less expensive than:
- hiring more police to deal with the crime some of these truants are known to commit or run around in circles chasing truants down alleys when they cut school.
- the tax dollars spent on unaccountable ngo theRAPI$T$ that claim to provide bogus family counseling and rehabilitation services for these truant/juveniles-criminals and their families
- the lawyer$ needed to prosecute and defend these criminals (Govt doesn't publish the expense of these astronomical court services per perp, that i've seen. Have you seen them?)
- the $34k-$45k+ per person needed to keep these former truants locked up in jail/prison each year. (The current court mandated criminal GPS anklets are meant to reduce the cost of incarcerating criminals who need high intensity supervision programs and would otherwise stay locked up.)

And if the students don't like wearing the anklets, they'll have more incentive to show up for school.

School truancy. There should be an app for that.

by ShawingtonTimes on Feb 26, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

A tweet from Martin Austermuhle last night:

Biggest surprise of #four23dc forum: Elissa Silverman opposes D.C. plan to get rid of parking minimums for developments.

So why are GGW readers supporting this candidate?

by Andrew on Feb 27, 2013 6:38 am • linkreport


I am not supporting her. It seems to me that Frumin has much more of a following here.

I will note that Silverman has been putting signs up in Brightwood, so she is certainly running hard. I have yet to see the same from any of the remaining candidates (except for the Orange signs that are still hanging and he has refused to remove)

by Kyle-W on Feb 27, 2013 10:16 am • linkreport

So why are GGW readers supporting this candidate?

Yeah I don't see a groundswell of support for her either. Does seem like Frumin has more support. Not a bad thing.

by HogWash on Feb 27, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

So why are GGW readers supporting this candidate?

Is there a bunch of evidence that "GGW readers" are supporting her? Seems like Frumin has had the most support in these polls.

by MLD on Feb 27, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

1) Catania is just a Diversion from Henderson Closing 15 Public Schools.

2) Catania lack of knowledge on D.C. Schools …just schools in general reveals his foolishness on the issue of truancy.

The real problem is “SCHOOL DROP-OUTS” which Catania has no clue. Truancy is just the gateway to the more serious problem of students dropping out of school. In my books -two weeks of absence from school is dropping out.

Firstly, Chairman Phil Mendelson made a bad choice to assign Councilmember Catania the chairmanship of the Education Committee. Visibly, Catania has no vested interest in children’s education because he does not have any children in D.C. Public Schools.

Catania is behind in his knowledge and ignorant of the public school system, what needs exist in public schools and evaluating school management officials. A complete and exhausting background on D.C. public schools is needed by Catania before he brings on the heavy hand to discipline children as his first point of business in his efforts to improve school quality.

Punishment, is that all Catania has in his mind. That is no way to introduce yourself to parents or children who are looking for change and improvement in this dismal school system from a DC. Councilmember.

Vincent Orange (first legislative law in 2013)is seeking to push law that requires children to be tested for reading at a third grade level before they are passed to the fourth grade.

Kwame Brown was pushing legislation that would require all students to sit for college entrance exams even if they have no intention on secondary education.

Chairman Vincent Gray devoted his Saturdays to invite students from various D.C. schools to the John Wilson Building to voice their comments and updates about what was happening in the classrooms. Now this is a splendid way to get the real truth from students about their challenges in school. Perhaps, if Catania used this method by Gray he would have a better understanding on how to address truancy.
And, now comes the enforcer [Catania] who has no clue on how to improve the school system but knows what he knows best being negative and only looking at punishing children/students and parents.

I would agree with Catania if he was not so discriminatory in his approach….with attacking parents but not holding School officials responsible to encourage students to learn while they (students) are in school.

School officials are failing children who need addition resources, special attention and emotional support to get them off in a positive effort. But, if outside circumstances challenge the school’s positive hold on the achieving student then more resources and personal attention will be needed to put the student back on track.

Calvin H. Gurley

by Calvin H. Gurley on Feb 27, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Calvin Gurley...yeah ok.

I'm not sure if Kaya has kids in DCPS but I know for a fact that Gray does NOT..and neither did Tony Williams...and neither do most members of the DC Council. The belief that having children is the proper metric to use when judging someone's ability to be effective wrt education is ridiculous. If you admit that the REAL PROBLEM of school dropouts is a result of TRUANCY, then why do you suggest what "leads to school drop outs" (truancy) be taken off the table as an action item?

You don't need to know the history of DCPS to realize that truancy is a problem..a huge one. You just need to know that tackling the "precursor" is a way to deal w/the end result.

I don't know the details. But it's likely that the students who attended Gray's forums were NOT truants and drop outs. So while I do like such forums...they essentially preach to the choir.

Yes, school officials are sometimes failing to provide resources. However, I've noticed that not one single word in your post places any responsibility on the parent and the student. Instead, you suggested ways that the gov't can step in and right these wrongs.

I'm not even a Catania fan to know that you are way out in left field w/this criticism. In fact, it's as radical as when Barbara Boxer (D-CA) suggested that the esteemed and superduperfabulous Dr. Condi Rice didn't have a "stake" in concern for our troops since she was unmarried w/no kids.

by HogWash on Feb 27, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

Lanier stated that MPD picked up about 5000 truants last year. Good smart students practically teach themselves; the students who need the most help are the ones who face the difficult hurdle of making up for one, two, ten or more days of school -- legitimately excused or not. There are students who show up every day who still get Cs and Ds; good luck to the others.

by ShawingtonTimes on Feb 27, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

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