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Washington Post: D.C. faces an attendance crisis. Its leaders are struggling to solve it.

December 20, 2023

Seniors from Phelps High School are reflected in a window before graduation ceremonies at Eastern High School in 2019. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post).

Washington Post reporter Lauren Lumpkin covers the ‘alarmingly high’ chronic absenteeism and truancy rates seen in The District’s schools. In the piece, she asked Children’s Law Center executive director, Judith Sandalow to share her thoughts on the current system for addressing this issue, which leans on CFSA referrals.

In addition to holding attendance meetings, schools are required to refer children between the ages of 5 and 13 who accumulate 10 unexcused absences to the Child and Family Services Agency for educational neglect.

The measure is widely seen as a last resort, and schools typically try other strategies to improve attendance before filing students into the criminal justice system.

Either approach — a referral to CFSA or the court system — has shortcomings. When a student is referred to child services, an investigator is sent to find signs of abuse or neglect, said Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children’s Law Center in D.C. But, often, that is not the reason children are missing school.

“It’s terrifying to have somebody knock on your door who literally has the power to remove your child from their home. It doesn’t build relationships for safety and trust to begin to problem solve,” Sandalow said. “At the highest level, we’ve had this law for about a decade. Truancy and chronic absenteeism have only increased year after year.”

Photo Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post