Mayor Bowser vetoes reprieve for chronically absent seniors


Darrow Montgomery

Bowser issued her first veto this July on a bill that would have allowed twenty-six chronically absent seniors to graduate. Bowser believes the bill "sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance."

Zara Hall

After a whirlwind of policy changes and scandals related to attendance and graduation, Mayor Muriel Bowser used her first formal veto to prevent chronically absent seniors from graduating. The veto rejected an emergency bill passed by the DC Council which would have allowed students with more than 30 unexcused absences to graduate if they met all other graduation requirements.

The legislation came after a November NPR investigation discovered more than 60 percent of Ballou High School graduates had missed more classes than DCPS policy allowed or had improperly used credit recovery. A subsequent investigation contracted by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) found that attendance policies were infrequently enforced at high school across the District. In response, DCPS mandated immediate strict enforcement of policies despite the fact that half the school year had already passed.

“DC Public Schools has invested substantial time and resources to ensure that all students who are off track have pathways to graduation or promotion through summer school, credit recovery or competency-based courses,” the mayor wrote in a letter explaining her decision. “Ultimately, we believe that mastering the content through one of those alternatives will set students up for long-term success in college or career, and this legislation undercuts individualized graduation plans created for each student.”

Councilmembers David Grosso and Robert White, who had previously expressed concerns with the mid-year enforcement, introduced the bill to make sure that students were not being barred from graduating unfairly due to attendance requirements.

The Council passed the eventually vetoed bill in a 12-1 vote. It is estimated that the bill would have helped approximately 26 seniors to graduate, after the veto the students had to take summer classes in order to graduate late.

“When students began this school year, they were operating under one attendance practice, but that practice changed mid-year,” White said in a statement. “So students who had mastered their subjects and believed they were on track for graduation or promotion are now finding themselves paying the price for a DCPS mistake.”

Mayor Bowser expressed support for DCPS leaders with her veto. “This emergency legislation undermines efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.,”  Ahnna Smith, the interim Deputy mayor for Education, said of the original bill in a statement.

The councilmembers could have possibly overridden the mayoral veto, however it would have been difficult due to their summer recess, which started the day after their legislation was rejected.

As a result of the mayor’s veto, students who demonstrated academic mastery and followed their schools’ guidance will be held back, leading to more disengaged youth,” Councilmember White said after the decision.