ERN DC Testimony on School Attendance Regulations


July 20, 2022

Minetre Martin 

Community Organizer 

Education Reform Now D.C. 

July 20, 2022 

Good evening, my name is Minetre Martin. I am a ward four resident, former educator, and Community Organizer for Education Reform Now D.C. (“ERN DC”). ERN DC is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students. Thank you all for turning your attention to the multifaceted nature of reported chronic absenteeism and truancy in the District of Columbia. 

Clarifying our attendance policies is an important start to adequately supporting DC public school students with attendance. Therefore, we generally support SR22-3, “Approve the District of Columbia’s Amendments to the Compulsory Education and School Attendance Regulations.” However, our attendance policy enforcement and support system for students would be stronger if we had early warning indicators, clarity on certain terms, adequate attendance training, and appropriate staffing for students with attendance issues. We urge the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to address these issues, described below: 

  1. Include early warning indicators to inform parents of absences in a timely manner at all schools. DCPS and charter schools have a duty to be relentless in maintaining families’ trust and keeping students safe, that includes being keenly aware of their daily attendance and taking immediate action to contact parents when students are absent. In a conversation with parents in ward 6, they expressed concerns with not being made aware of their child’s absences immediately. Two parents shared that they received an automated call notifying them that their child missed over 40 days of school without being informed. Another parent revealed that their child informed them that their homeroom teachers were often late, resulting in attendance not being taken. Our families cannot afford these kinds of mistakes, especially when they are having to take time off from work to address these problems. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) should adopt solutions for quickly and consistently notifying parents about a student’s attendance record; this may include, allowing time during professional development days to update parents on the state of their child’s attendance, or considering applications or technology that will immediately alert parents when students are late or absent. 
  2. Provide clarity on the terms being used, such as “chronic absenteeism”, “truancy”, and “partially present”. During your July 6th working session with the OSSE, many board members, as well as Councilmember Trayon White, sought clarification regarding the meaning, purpose and application of attendance. There were many clarifying questions around how we define terms such as chronic absenteeism, truancy, and partially present that will not be changed in this revision. Given that these questions came from individuals who work with education policy daily, we can only imagine how unfamiliar and confusing the terms must seem. In order to ensure school administrators responsible for reporting attendance data can fully understand, clearly articulate, and ensure adherence to the new policy, encourage LEAs to create a chart and visuals that schools can share with their staff, families, and students. An excellent PowerPoint presentation has been provided to the public by the Everyday Counts! Taskforce explaining the policy in detail, and it could be a valuable resource when presenting changes to leaders.1 
  3. Provide adequate training to teachers on how to report absences. In your 2021 Teacher and Principal Attrition in the District’s Public Schools Report2, on average, twenty-five percent of DC public schools teachers leave their schools annually and continues to be a persistent problem especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. The process of filling these positions will take time and a great deal of attention for schools severely understaffed. It is important that OSSE make note of severely understaffed schools, especially ones with multiple administrative vacancies and prepare quality materials to support with training new staff on reporting attendance. 
  4. Ensure that every school staff includes a variety of specialized support personnel such as school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, or other pupil support personnel for case management and counseling. Clarifying school attendance policies are a start to improving our student attendance rates. However, ensuring schools have a robust attendance management system in place and increasing investments in our schools can help to improve attendance, engagement, and overall academic achievement. 

Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I welcome any questions you may have.

1 The Everyday Counts! Taskforce: Chronic Absenteeism PowerPoint

2 Teacher and Principal Attrition in the District’s Public Schools Report