Truancy problem growing in D.C.

Truancy has always been an issue in D.C. but the problem is growing. Mayor Vincent Gray and school officials are launching a new program to get students off the streets and back in school.

D.C. police delivered a truant they caught on the street to his school, the Transition Academy, Wednesday. Since school began in August, D.C. Police say they've picked up more than 6,000 truants around the city.

Hattie Lambert lives near a school and called the police Wednesday when she found four students on her car, where she says they were smoking marijuana. The police responded about an hour after she called them.

Lambert said the students tried to come to school, but the school wouldn't let them in.

They are students here, but Transition Academy's policy is that if you come to school after 11 a.m., you will not be allowed in. Students who come in later are asked to leave school property.

“So that means they're going to be out from 11 to 3 in the streets doing nothing, getting in trouble,” Lambert said.

Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright announced an initiative to reduce truancy among District public school students Wednesday.

“Truancy is almost always symptomatic of deeper issues in the community or at home,” Gray said. The District wants to identify the most truant students to see how services to those families can be improved or better coordinated.

The program will identify truant 9th graders at three schools – Ballou and Anacostia Senior High Schools and the Washington Mathematics and Science Technology Public Charter School – where truancy is a particularly significant problem. The mayor’s office said there are about 120 chronically truant 9th-grade students at these three schools.

“We are working to improve inter-agency coordination to address the underlying issues that cause kids to be truant in the first place,” said Wright.

Studies show that chronic truancy is often a precursor to other problems like homelessness, criminal activity and dropping out of school, the mayor’s office said. The program will be expanded next year to other high schools and, ultimately, to middle and elementary schools.

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