D.C. Public Schools Battle High Rates of Student Absenteeism

The disappearance of Relisha Rudd has sparked a debate surrounding the high rate of absenteeism among D.C. students.

According to her school records, Relisha missed a full 30 days this school year alone.

Her absences are alarming, but not a rare case in D.C. Public Schools. Based on the school system’s records, in the last school year, 32 percent of their students had unexcused absences totaling 10 or more days and of those students, 19 percent missed 20 or more days.

By law, schools are obligated to report students’ families to a social worker if a student misses 10 or more days of school. However, despite the legal requirement, only about 40 percent of those cases of chronic absenteeism were reported.

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, said that while less than half is still too low, it is an improvement from the 19 percent reported in the year before.

She contends that in order to account for every student who should have to be reported, the school system would have to hire a whole staff dedicated solely to the paperwork that the reports require, a measure that she says simply is not possible with the school system’s budget constraints.

Henderson said that in order to truly combat the high rates of habitual student nonattendance, officials should work to make school a place where students actually want to be, and parents need to bear some of the responsibility as well.


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“We can’t do this by ourselves. We need parents to be committed to getting their kids to school,” Henderson said.

Officials are currently considering measures to combat the District’s high absentee rates including punishing parents for their children’s truancy.

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