Two D.C. Council members say repeated absences this school year should not prevent students from receiving diplomas — a proposal that could allow truant seniors to graduate as the city reels from a graduation scandal that engulfed last year’s seniors.
Council members David Grosso (I-At Large) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) said they plan to introduce a measure next week to allow seniors who were chronically absent during the first three quarters of the academic year to graduate if they meet other academic standards.
The legislation comes amid stricter enforcement of long-ignored attendance policies, which received scrutiny this year after a city-commissioned report found that 1 in 3 high school graduates in 2017 received their diplomas despite accruing too many absences or improperly enrolling in makeup classes. Some students and teachers have argued it was unfair to change the enforcement of attendance policies midyear.
City policy dictates that students who have 30 or more absences in a class should fail, and the proposed legislation would delay stringent enforcement of the attendance policy until the 2018-2019 academic year.
The proposal appears likely to face an uphill battle, given opposition by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s interim deputy mayor for education. Ahnna Smith, who has been in that role since February, wrote in an email that the legislation fails to prepare students for college and careers.
“The proposed legislation would inexcusably exempt absences, signaling to students that mastery of content and preparation for the future are not what are most important,” Smith wrote. “The legislation also ignores the hard work teachers, administrators, students, and families have put in over the last six months, to create individualized graduation plans that will ensure our students receive the preparation they need for the future.”
Data released this month shows that 64 of the school system’s 3,623 seniors could receive a reprieve because of the legislation. Those students are at risk of not graduating for one reason: They have too many absences.
This would represent only a minor fix — more than 1,000 DCPS seniors are not on track to graduate this year because of poor academic achievement, Grosso, who heads the council’s education committee, wrote in a statement.
The legislation will be introduced on an emergency basis, and if passed, would go into effect immediately.
The measure also would apply to students in lower grades who are at risk of not moving to the next grade because of absences, according to Grosso’s statement.
Grosso has been pressing the city to release additional data on graduation and attendance. In response to his requests, information released Friday by the District showed that 5 percent of the school system’s freshmen, 8 percent of sophomores and 7 percent of juniors have received failing grades solely because of absences.
After the Class of 2017 set a record-high graduation rate — 73 percent — city leaders are bracing for a sharp fall in graduation among this year’s seniors.
Data released by D.C. Public Schools last month indicates that 46 percent of seniors are on course to cross the graduation stage. Twenty-one percent, or 758 students, are considered moderately off track.