D.C. Council passes emergency school legislation related to chronic absenteeism

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation on Tuesday that would prevent D.C. Public School (DCPS) students from being prevented from graduating, moving up to the next grade level, or having a grade lowered if the only reason for doing so is because of chronic absenteeism.

The School Promotion and Graduation Fairness Temporary Act of 2018 was co-sponsored by At-large Councilmembers David Grosso and Robert White.

"DCPS made a mistake. It should have enforced a system-wide attendance policy. It didn’t do that until it found itself in a scandal and when it corrected, it ensured that the only consequences for DCPS mistakes fell on the students. That is not fair to those students," said White, when he explained his reasons for co-sponsoring a bill.

White added that the school system began implementing the absenteeism policy, which was already on the books but not being enforced, three-quarters of the way through the current school year following an investigation of graduation rates and chronic absenteeism following last year's graduation scandal at Ballou High School.

"The problem was that when the school year started, many of the teachers in many schools had their own attendance requirement that they had articulated to students. So, it made sense to me that next year, we would start with a clean slate. We would ensure all students, all teachers, all principals knew the attendance requirements and that we’d enforce it. But to start three-quarters of the way through the year, enforcing a policy that had never been enforced, when students start out the year with a different understanding was patently unfair to these students," said White.

The bill passed 12-1.

The one dissenting vote was Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd who told DCW50 News at 10 that he thought it sent the wrong message.

"I believe the legislation that was passed unanimously with my one no vote sets a very poor precedent on our city," added Todd. "What it says is that you don’t have to go to school for six weeks and then the council will make a provision so that you can graduate because you may be passing the class or you may have completed the course work. I believe that being at school is just as important as completing your course work."

Todd said another reason he could not support the legislation is because it is unknown how many students would benefit. White said DCPS is still calculating that number.

"Less than 30 seniors," said White. "We are still doing the math to find out how many students in lower grades, but it won’t be a ton. Only students who have mastered their subject areas and outside of failures due to attendance, would be academically passing their classes."

The legislation will only be in effect for this school year and covers absences between August 8, 2017 and April 6, 2018.