DCPS softens short-lived attendance policy

Hannah Bocian, Elie Salem, and Zara Hall

DCPS modified the strict attendance policy enforced halfway through last year, removing all attendance penalties besides the mandated failure for more than 30 unexcused absences. The reform is part of an effort to rethink education policies after a series of scandals last year.

The previous policy was enforced midway through last year after a WAMU-NPR investigation discovered that one in three DCPS graduates received their diploma in violation of the District’s attendance policy in 2016. The policy caused panic among students who had already been absent enough times to fail for the year.

“What we saw last year was that the implementation of these policies in the middle of the year hurt a lot of kids,” said Principal Kimberly Martin. “The changes in the attendance policy, or the revisions we’ve seen, are an attempt to be more mindful and thoughtful of how these policies can be implemented, or the difficulty of implementing these policies.”

The new attendance policy stipulates that students have five minutes after the second bell to get to class, but should be counted late if they arrive after the additional five minutes. After three tardies in a class in an advisory, the student will have to go to a 10-minute detention with their teacher, either during STEP or after school.

The change removed multiple punishments imposed in the previous policy. The grade reductions for five unexcused absences was removed, along with penalties for ten unexcused absences, and an unexcused absence counted for three tardies.

The policy change came after a series of public forums held by DCPS throughout the spring and summer where parents, students, and teachers expressed concerns that the policy was overly punitive. There were also concerns that there was not enough built-in support for students struggling with attendance.

Social studies teacher Belle Belew believes that while midyear enforcement was harmful, a stricter policy increased attendance in the classroom. “I thought it was unfair the way it was handled but not the policy itself,” she said. “I noticed that my, especially my senior classes, kids really came to class, they didn’t mess around with [attendance] the same [way] as previous years.”

Sophomore Paige Hollander believes that student academic performance, not DCPS penalties, should be the consequences of excessive absences. “I think it should show in their grades if they’re not showing up to school, because they’re not passing tests, because they’re not learning the material,” Said Hollander. “Not because the attendance office is like ‘thats not good.'”