Relisha Rudd's Case Spotlights DC Truancy

classroomEight-year-old Relisha Rudd has been missing since March. She was last seen with Kahlil Tatum, a janitor at the homeless shelter where Relisha, her mother, and brothers lived. Tatum apparently killed his wife, whose body was found in a motel, and himself. His body was found in a park in D.C.; still no sign of Relisha.

Her mother has come under fire for her part in this tragedy–and her part is huge. Shamika Young allowed Tatum to spend time with her daughter. To explain Relisha’s absences, Young lied to school officials and said Tatum was her doctor. For whatever reason (which probably involved money), Young allowed this man to take her daughter from the shelter and spend time alone with her. School officials visited the shelter to verify Young’s “doctor” claims, realized something was amiss, and reported Relisha missing.

The Washington Post used Relisha Rudd’s case as a news peg to report on the wider problem of truancy and absenteeism is D.C. government schools. An excerpt (emphasis added):

The school system has hired more staff devoted to reducing absenteeism and has intensified its focus on attendance as a key element of evaluating schools and principals. There are signs of progress, especially at the elementary level, where at the end of the first semester of this school year, the rate of chronic truancy had dropped 27 percent compared with the same point last year. Total absenteeism also has begun to drop.

But even with the improvements, children still miss an enormous number of class days, raising questions about whether the District has found an effective approach to reduce absences.

What about the parents’ responsibility? Ten paragraphs in, we finally get to them. School absences are reportedly chronic in D.C. schools. The government implemented new rules to catch the problem earlier. The district lowered the threshold at which they report school absences to child protective services, and they’ve done raffle giveaways for students who show up on time. The chronic truancy rate has dropped 27 percent from last year, but parents must do more.

Who better to make sure the child gets to school, and get there on time, than the child’s parents? School staff can do only so much. The goal should be to shift more of the responsibility (and expectation) on the parents, not the teachers or even administrators. Ideally, parents wouldn’t need the government to provide incentives to make sure their own children show up at school. But Nanny Government, which fosters dependency, gets only part of the blame. Parents get the lion’s share.

Photo credit: Terry McCombs (Creative Commons) – Some Rights Reserved

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