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Posted at 1:20 PM ET, 07/ 8/2010

Catania: Truancy sanctions needed

By Henri Cauvin

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), saying that truancy is at crisis levels, wants the parents of children who are skipping school to face tougher financial penalties, including the potential loss of welfare benefits.

Speaking today at a hearing on the mental health needs of children and teens in the District, Catania said parents have been let off the hook for their children's truancy and delinquency. "We have been too soft for too long on this issue," said Catania, chairman of the council's Health Committee.

Under D.C. law, parents can be fined for repeated unexcused absences, Catania said, but such penalties have not been imposed.

Catania said financial sanctions had been effective in other places, including Arizona, and that he envisioned them as one tool in a broader effort to curb truancy and delinquency and to increase parental involvement.

"I'm not saying penalties alone would be a panacea," he said in an interview after the hearing, which was prompted by concerns over how effectively the city's mental health system is reaching young people, particularly those involved with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

During the 2008-2009 school year, 20 percent of D.C. public schools students were truant, according to statistics Catania cited at the hearing. During the same period, more than one in five DCPS students had more than 20 unexcused absences, according to the statistics.

By Henri Cauvin  | July 8, 2010; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  DC  
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"potential loss of welfare benefits"---Yes, yes and yes.

While its not all welfare recipients, if you aren't going to (or cannot) work, the very least you can do is make sure your kid is at school.

Posted by: Redial1 | July 8, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

FINALLY - someone is making a common sense judgement call on the DC council. Thank you Catania. Perhaps this will teach those parents whose purpose for having kids was to get a bigger check. Its called 'responsibility' and 'accountability'.

Posted by: | July 8, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Finally someone is trying to hold parents accountable for the education of their children. If parents took responsibility for the education of their children and the students took responsibility for their learning, teachers' jobs would be much easier and we'd see real learning taking place and test scores rise off the charts!

Cutting them off from welfare is a good start.

Catania for mayor!!!!!!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | July 8, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

When I was growing up , we had Truant Officer's coming to our home's, you can tell I am from OLD School, and it worked, teacher's would call, no recording called, some teacher's even went to the parent's home those days are over, cutting into the parent's income would make the parents more responsible, the police see the kid's the police do and say nothing, because it's of no use the court's do NOTHING, I guess the police are sick and tired of arresting the same kid's and adult's is the reason they (police) turn their head's and I don't blame them, Shame on the Court System, and our City Council, for letting this problem get out of hand, you the city council and court's created this mess.

Posted by: onesugar | July 8, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Although I commend Cantania for his recommendation, are the children of welfare recipients the only kids who cut school?

I'm hoping that Cantania presented a list of options and the author of this article just "happened" to not include anything other than the welfare recommendation.

If not, it certainly isn't a good look for him. I know quite a few children of NONwelfare recipients who are constantly truant.

Posted by: dcis1 | July 8, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Although I commend Cantania for his recommendation, are the children of welfare recipients the only kids who cut school?

I'm hoping that Cantania presented a list of options and the author of this article just "happened" to not include anything other than the welfare recommendation.

If not, it certainly isn't a good look for him. I know quite a few children of NONwelfare recipients who are constantly truant.

Posted by: dcis1 | July 8, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Dcis1; you're right I know from my experience it is not the welfare children who are staying home, cutting class or being truant. I have seen more children at the high-school level...who come for well adjusted families with both parents, that are late everyday. Yet, their children will not make it to school on time. C'mon if data has revealed that children at the high-school level do better with later arrivals...then "going after" is not the right choice of words. Maybe, readjusting the start time, might be more appropriate.

Posted by: PowerandPride | July 8, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I am not on Welfare bt my kids miss days...
I have a child that is hospitalized often...and my older kids help with the younger.....

Will Mr. Catania make ME pay a fine too?

Every situation is different....
my older kids are in private school and they understand....
I HATE DCPS !!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: wendy_lewis2 | July 8, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I also want to add that it up to the record keeper to keep ACCURATE record...
I have two kids at the same school and one will be marked absent and the other one not......

Posted by: wendy_lewis2 | July 8, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Catania could benefit from studying some comprehensive anti-truancy programs in other school systems before advising punitive approaches. For example the many approaches in NYC.
Otherwise, he's just a scold as ready to punish some families here as his Republican friends are to punish selected immigrant families nationwide.

It isn't clear Catania is more capable of directing OSSE into solutions that work than he was in directing solutions to DC hospital ownership crises. The Councilmember has ZERO human services management experience. Let him run for Attorney General. The job might suit him better than his current elected office.

Posted by: incredulous | July 8, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

And this is going to solve what?

People aren't going to complain about kids on the metro trains or the kids hanging out downtown?

the kids are going to go to school and actually learn and not disrupt class.

Catania's republican backside is coming out again. Blame the poor and those on welfare.

Posted by: oknow1 | July 8, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I think people who suggest this maybe don't understand mental illness. It is very difficult to get a mentally ill person to do something they don't want to do. Also, sometimes you have cases of depressed people who are so sick they really cannot attend school.

What would you do with wealthy people who let their kids skip? Force them to give up dividends?

Posted by: celestun100 | July 8, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Dear David Catania, When DCPS offers something better than what my kids can get when truant, well. . . they won't be truant so often.

Seriously, I keep my kids out when I know there's going to be full-on test prep or other useless garbage going on. Because they had good teachers this year, I didn't keep them out as often.

Posted by: dcparent | July 8, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Punishing the parent for sending their children to school to only have ineffective school officials under Rhee's leadership put them out on the streets is absolutely ridiculous. Our city leaders have failed our families and children for far too long. They have funded ineffective poverty pimping programs who have received millions of dollars committing fraud at the expense of our children and now that this is coming to a halt the council under the committee leadership of Catania wants to blame all of the juvenile justive ills of our city on the "parents and children"!

Those of us who have resided in the District for 62 years or longer know perfectly well, that the negative changes that have had such a devasting impact on the Black youth of this great City was imposed on us by recently elected Adminstration and confirmed officials (Williams through Fenty Administration) who were voted for by "newcomers". This has led to our children and families continuously getting the least and the last once again putting us at the edge of disaster as a people.

We need absolute accountability from the top down. The majority of youth that this reform will impact is the Black youth! We have once again heavily populated the district's juvenile system (look back historically at Cedar Knoll, DC Reciving Home (Mt. Olivet Road), Youth Center 1 and 2, Occoquan)! What is our population now 98% Black, 0% Caucasion, 2% Latino?

Rise us African American parents and hold our elected officials accountable for their failure in ensuring a "Promise Neighborhood" for our Black Babies. Remember, we elected them to represent our rights, not their personal ones!

We as former DCPS graduates of the Great Washington DC have personally benefited from a caring government under the leadership of the late Mayor Walter Washington, were we were once a Great, Proud, City.

We need to get back to basics and stop letting outsiders decide our destiny as African American Families!

Posted by: needabsoluteaccountability | July 8, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Good luck finding the parents. In many of the cases they are missing in action. Grandma is taking care of the kid as a last resort and supporting herself on Social Security. Are you going to fine her too?

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 8, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I agree with many of the comments regarding who Catania "thinks" are the only students with truancy issues. I find it interesting that as long as we have had truacy issues, now he speaks. Could the election year have something to do with it.

What he speaks of is a band-aid approach because there is research that speaks to the causes of truancy and when the cycle and/or behavior is established. Taking someone off welfare doesn't address the root of the problem. Now that he has targeted children on welfare, what about the children who have two parents and are from middle class/well to do families? Correct me if I am wrong but isn't Paris Hilton a dropout?

Posted by: candycane1 | July 8, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

I know this is a controversial topic, but I work in a DCPS school east of the river and have often been in awe at the lack of parental support in trying to get children to come to school. I have had high school kids and parents come to me to sign their benefit sheets so that they can receive compensation and little Johnny hasn't been anywhere near school in weeks.
This is not for those who are sick, because that is not defined as truant. This is for those who who have excessive unexcused absences, which are defined as 15 or more per advisory. That's every 9 weeks people! For what reason would any child need to have more than 15 UNEXCUSED absences. For students who have parents who do not receive assistance, the school must notify you so my question is why haven't you gotten off your butt and gone up there or called? Uh yeah you need to be fined! This is your child! If you are receiving assistance and you aren't in contact with the school or a social worker about little Johnny's issues, then your just asking for a bigger problem and believe you me it leads to bigger problems.
Let me just name a few....Benita Jacks, the 10 innocently slain in SE this Spring, the rising number of teen parents, the increased dropout rates, increased crime rates, etc.
Social services are there for people who need them and we the tax payer help those in need. They are not there for people to abuse. Families should use those services to get on their feet, find educational opportunities, get training and daycare while they are being trained to make them productive. They aren't supposed to receive the benefits, then turn around and go back home or fill their day up with what they want to do. They have to juggle raising their children and pull themselves up too.
Parents have to be committed too. Welfare or not...make your kids come to school, make them pay attention, and let them know you mean business and education is priority. And since some parents seem to have forgotten that golden rule, then I agree with the Councilman....HIT THEM WHERE IT HURT$$$$$$!

Posted by: trying2bbetter | July 8, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

@incredulous and @needabsoluteaccountability, I agree with the both of you!
Mr. Catania could not make the hospital in Far Southeast work! Catania is a mean spirited person. He slid the same-sex marriage bill down our throats, now he wants to target welfare families . He has a lot of nerve. There are children of professional parents who can not even control their own children, yet the "little creep" would not even mention them, just welfare families. Also there are a lot of middle-class families who are two paychecks away from needing Welfare.He needs to Be careful who he puts down.

Posted by: fivetogo | July 9, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Wow I hope you are not a parent. I totally agree that having a child is totally the right thing to do and parents that just don't have their kids in schoool for the hell of it should be fined.

YUP ...this are my kids but when you are caught up in an emegency situation callin NO ONE at school is my priority....

Like I said before I think the communication between the people at the school is OUTRAGEOUS !!! I have received calls from one childs teacher and that call WAS NOT mentioned to the other teachers OR the guidance counselor so in turn I recieve more calls looking for the kids????

so me of us ARE trying to do the right thing..... If I received welfare I would be offended by his comments


Posted by: wendy_lewis2 | July 9, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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