FOCUS DC News Wire 9/21/2015

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Unions push to cancel classes for pope’s visit [KIPP DC PCS and St. Coletta PCS mentioned]
The Washington Post
By Michael Alison Chandler
September 18, 2015

The unions that represent principals and teachers are urging D.C. public schools to cancel classes Sept. 23 during Pope Francis’s visit to Washington.

Aona Jefferson, president of the Council of School Officers, said that the parade, street closings, Metro disruptions, bus route changes and huge crowds will lead to “commuting nightmares.”

“This will pose a major problem for school personnel traveling to and from work as well as children going to and from school,” she said in an e-mail to The Washington Post on Friday. “All of these disruptions create a potential high incidence of absences that day.”

The absence of key staff could mean compromised instruction and school security, she said. Jefferson noted that the federal government is encouraging employees to work from home, and that Philadelphia public schools plans to close while the pope is in town.

How to respond to the traffic disruptions — and potential learning opportunities — created by the pope’s visit has been a pressing question for schools. Many students in the District travel across town to attend charter schools or other traditional schools outside their neighborhood.

KIPP DC, which operates 16 schools, along with about 10 other charters schools have announced that they will close next Wednesday, the second day of the pope’s visit. St Coletta Public Charter School, which enrolls students with intellectual disabilities, plans to close Wednesday and Thursday.

Jefferson said she sent the union’s appeal to school system administrators and the mayor’s office.

Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said she sent a similar appeal to the school system. She cited traffic concerns and the fact that parents and students should have the chance to participate in a historic event.

“This is the first time that Pope Francis is coming to the United States,” Davis said. “I was thinking of all the teachers, students and parents who would want to participate in that.”

In a response from D.C. public schools that was shared with The Washington Post, Jason Kamras, chief of human capital, said that school officials have grappled with how to proceed, weighing the logistical challenges with other factors.

“First and foremost, we have to consider how our actions will impact our students and their families,” he wrote. “When we unexpectedly close school, we cause all sorts of disruptions and hardships for them.”

Such hardships include the fact that many families rely on schools for their meals and that students will special needs will not receive services they are entitled to, he said. Closing schools also means lost instructional time for students and, for parents, a “stressful and costly last-minute scramble to find child care,” he said.

“We recognize that keeping school open also creates its share of challenges for our employees,” he said. “Ultimately, though, we have to put the needs of our students and their families first.”

Michelle Lerner, a spokeswoman for D.C. public schools, said of the decision to stay open: “We understand it will be a lot of traffic for everyone, but our number one priority is that every student get critical instructional time.”

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson sent an e-mail to families Thursday notifying them that schools will open on time during the pope’s visit and advising them to plan ahead for their commutes.

Truancy prevention program is expanding into more middle schools
The Washington Post
By Michael Alison Chandler
September 18, 2015

A city-funded truancy prevention program is expanding this year into more District middle schools after an analysis of early results proved promising.

Only 14 percent of D.C. middle school students who took part in the Show Up Stand Out program two years ago were referred again last year, indicating that their attendance improved significantly. Overall, about a quarter of the elementary and middle students who participated were referred again a second year.

D.C. officials announced the results and the new middle school program Thursday at an event at Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast Washington.

Chronic absenteeism is a serious challenge for many public schools in the District and across the country. Schools are looking for new ways to improve attendance, which is closely tied to academic success.

Show Up Stand Out, which is administered by the D.C. Justice Grants Administration, was launched as a pilot program in 2012 with 17 elementary schools. This year it will be in 67 schools, including more than two dozen middle schools.

The program does not work in high schools, where truancy rates are highest. More than half of the students at D.C. public high schools — 56 percent — were considered “chronically truant” during the 2013-2014 school year, compared with 8 percent of elementary students and 10 percent of middle school students, according to a report released in March by the Children’s Law Center and D.C. Lawyers for Youth.

In the elementary program, caseworkers develop attendance plans to alleviate barriers to getting the children to school each day, working to address such challenges as lack of transportation or lack of stable housing.

The middle school program provides student clubs with mentors and activities designed to attract more students to class and help them feel more connected to school and to each other. A new public service announcement campaign announced this week will bring “When you skip, you miss out,” messages aimed at students to bus shelters and Metro buses.

The program helps students who collect from five to nine unexcused absences. Once a child has 10 such absences, families are referred to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. At 15 unexcused absences, students ages 14 to 17 can be referred to court.

“We think the most effective way to approach the problem is to try to address the issue early,” said Edward “Smitty” Smith, director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, which administers the program in partnership with multiple community-based organizations. “If we can catch them further upstream prior to their truancy being chronic then they can benefit from a healthy and strong academic year.”




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