D.C. school officials want chronically absent students to have more flexible schedules and additional avenues to complete work they missed while out of class — a proposal released Friday that could salvage the report cards of students poised to fail because of excessive absences.
The rules would eliminate a policy that says students automatically fail in an academic quarter if they accrue more than 10 unexcused absences in a class. A student could still flunk, though, by missing more than 30 days during a year.
The changes released Friday are being implemented on a temporary, emergency basis for four months and emerge as D.C. Public Schools remains in the shadow of a graduation scandal. The school system will solicit input from students, teachers, parents and others in the public before making the rules permanent.
“Everyone has a part to play in supporting our students toward graduation, and we are committed to ensuring that we have ample input as we improve our policies and regulations to do what is best for [D.C. Public Schools] students,” interim schools chancellor Amanda Alexander said in a statement.
The proposed regulations come in the wake of a city-commissioned report that found that 1 in 3 high school graduates in 2017 received their diplomas despite accruing too many absences or improperly enrolling in makeup classes.
The report found that schools had been ignoring the city’s attendance policies, and city leaders said that educators should begin enforcing the regulations. As a result, the graduation rate is expected to decline this year.
But the proposed regulations appear to show a more lenient stance toward attendance, making it harder for students to flunk because of excessive absences.
Following the release of the city-ordered report in January, teachers and community members said that students have lives complicated by unstable homes, jobs and responsibilities for taking siblings to schools. In such an environment, attending school each day, in full, can prove challenging.
“We have had a lot of issues with attendance, and students have issues with attendance for various reasons,” said Markus Batchelor, the Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education. The introduction of the updated rules Friday, he said, suggests that school leaders are acknowledging the obstacles confronting students.
“The opportunity to address them is a positive move forward,” Batchelor said.
The regulations allow schools to decide if they want to alter their academic days, including adding periods to the day to accommodate students who struggle to attend school during standard hours. The school system says it does not expect widespread schedule changes, and has not determined how it would pay for alterations.
Students who flunk because they accrued more than 30 unexcused absences in an academic year will have the opportunity to appeal the grade to a panel of at least three school staff members.
The regulations also instruct teachers to inform students of classroom policies on makeup work. Teachers are required to give students at least one day to make up their work for every missed day of school.
Scott Goldstein, a former teacher who runs EmpowerEd DC — a teacher advocacy organization — said many teachers do not believe that attendance is the best measure of student competence. Still, students need to recognize that if they are going to be successful in the workforce, they need to show up for class on time.
“There is a real desire to move toward a system that is based on competency and mastery,” said Goldstein, who only saw an overview of the regulations.