Still a Scofflaw?

We have seen that Richmond had the lowest secondary attendance in Virginia last year: 88%.  This happened in a context where Richmond earlier was ignoring the requirements of the state law regarding truancy and the Board of “Education” was ignoring its duty to require Richmond to obey that law.

Inquiring mind wants to know whether all that truancy last year was again exacerbated by Richmond’s defiance of the law:

Subject: Records Request
From: John Butcher
Date: 03/03/2017 08:57 AM
To: Angela Lewis — RPS FOIA

Ms. Lewis,

Please share with me the public records of the Richmond School Board that set out the following data for Richmond Public Schools for the 2015-16 school year:

The number of students with five or more unexcused absences;
The number of five absence truancy plans;
The number of students with six or more unexcused absences;
The number of six absence conferences scheduled;
The number of students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The number of CHINS complaints filed as to students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The number of proceedings instituted against parents of students with seven or more unexcused absences;
The summary of outcomes of the CHINS complaints and/or the proceedings instituted against parents;
The number of students with ten or more unexcused absences;
The number of warning letters sent to parents of students with ten or more unexcused absences.

If the School Board has begun to attend to its duty under Va. Code 22.1-258, there doubtless will be multiple records responsive to each portion of this request.  Please do NOT send me all of those; a single record responsive to each request (or a smaller number of records responding to multiple requests) would be plenty; an email with just the data, without production of the underlying records, would be even better.

With thanks always for your kind and good work,


Where Have All the Students Gone?

The 2016 Superintendent’s Annual Report sets out, at Table 8, the elementary and secondary attendance data by division for the year.

Here are the elementary data.


The yellow bar is Richmond.  The red bars, from the left, are the peer cities Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.

The Richmond elementary datum is merely discouraging.  The secondary attendance is appalling:


The yellow again is Richmond.  The red, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News.

Va. Code § 22.1-258 requires an attendance plan after the fifth unexcused absence and a conference with the parents after the sixth.  Upon a further absence, the statute requires either a prosecution of the parents or the filing of a CHINS petition against the student.

When I asked RPS for data on compliance with this statute for 2015, they reported 13,046 five-day attendance plans and 61 CHINS petitions.  They had NO RECORD of the number of five, six, or seven day absences and NO RECORD of prosecutions of parents.

We do have some data from earlier years:


Of course, our State Board of Education Fecklessness did not fire the Superintendent or sue the School Board over those wholesale violations of a law the State Board is required to enforce.

Your tax dollars at “work.”

Looks like I’ll have to ask RPS for those data for 2016.

Is Fairfax Above the Law?

Fairfax doesn’t like Virginia’s mandatory school attendance law, so they object to the regulation that proposes to enforce that law.

Va. Code  § 22.1-269 requires that the Board of Education “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.” Notwithstanding that mandate, the Board still neither collects nor publishes data that would allow the public to assess its performance of that duty.

The Board did not publish a proposed truancy regulation until December 21, 2009. The history of that regulation is set forth on the Town Hall website.  In short, the regulation completed its fourth(!) public comment period on 12/2/2015; the proposed regulation still fails to discharge the Board’s duty and the Board has not yet acted to either adopt the proposed regulation or to repair it.

Yet, in the Peoples Republic of Northern Virginia the proposed regulation is defective insofar as it does attempt to require compliance with State law.

In comments dated 12/2/15, Dr. Karen Garza of Fairfax County Schools says:

[T]he draft regulations require the creation of an attendance plan after the fifth unexcused absence, as specified by Code.  But instead of allowing time for that plan’s implementation or for any sort of evaluation of a student’s progress toward addressing issues identified by the plan, the regulations (again in compliance with Code) require additional significant interventions after only a single additional unexcused absence.  One more unexcused absence beyond that potentially triggers a court petition and legal intervention.  Simply put, this timeline is fundamentally flawed and undermines the potential usefulness of the required attendance plan by giving it little to no time to actually work.  Unless the underlying Code constraints are addressed, regulatory changes will be of limited worth in truly moving student attendance policies in school divisions toward evidence-based best practices.

In short: “The State law is fundamentally flawed and we object to your regulation that would seek to enforce that law.”

The Fairfax schools’ Web page tells us that Dr. Garza is the Superintendent up there.  Her comments tell us that Dr. Garza needs to be fired and replaced with a Superintendent who is willing to apply Virginia law as it is, not as she wishes it to be.


PS to Superintendent Staples: In the likely event that Fairfax won’t fire her, you and your Board can.

AWOL on Truancy

In light of Richmond’s flagrant violations of the state law regarding truancy and their failure to post any truancy data this year, I filed a FOIA request for their 2015 data.  Their response, in short (the 2d column lists the number of students with the specified number of absences; the fourth column, the number of the required responses):


As a reminder, the law requires:

  • 5 unexcused absences: Attendance Plan;
  • 6 unexcused absences: Conference w the Parents; and
  • 7 unexcused absences: Prosecution of the Parents or CHINS petition v. the student.

Richmond’s recent history (Note: They have been counting ten-absence cases and sending the Parents a letter):


So this year they are not even keeping records, except to show an appalling number of five-absence cases and that the unlawfully minuscule number of CHINS petitions has dropped.

You might think that VDOE, which has the duty to “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth” would be doing something about this tragic defiance of the law.  But to think that you’d have to be unaware of VDOE’s ongoing disdain for performing that duty.

What I don’t understand is why somebody doesn’t mandamus the School Board.  Or sue them for damages (e.g., for a death by stabbing) caused by a frequent truant.

Where Have All the Data Gone?

Is Richmond Hiding Its Egregious Truancy Problem?

Richmond has a longstanding and ugly problem with truancy.



Virginia law is perfectly clear as to what Richmond must do about truancy: Schools are required to notify the parents of any unexcused absence.  After the fifth such absence, “[t]he school principal or his designee or the attendance officer, the pupil, and the pupil’s parent shall jointly develop a plan to resolve the pupil’s nonattendance.  Such plan shall include documentation of the reasons for the pupil’s nonattendance.”  After a further (sixth) absence, the school must schedule an attendance conference with the parents.  After a further (seventh) absence, the school division must either prosecute the parents or file a Child in Need of Services/Supervision petition.

For years, Richmond largely ignored these requirements.  Indeed, Richmond only counted ten-absence truancies (three beyond the required filing of a court action) and publicly stated that, upon the tenth absence, it sent a letter to the parents. 

Following some publicity regarding its lawless behavior, Richmond began to schedule more of the required conferences but the number of court actions remained pitifully (and unlawfully) small.


Note those numbers, please: In 2014, Richmond was required by law to file somewhere between 2,254 and 3,864 court actions to deal with truant students; they filed only 291 (13% of 2,254, <13% of the required number).

VDOE reports that Richmond held 6,946 conferences (!) in 2015.

On Feb. 24, I emailed our Superintendent and my district School Board member to inquire about the disappearance of the SAT and dropout data from the RPS Web site.  They have not favored me with a reply.  Today I noticed that the truancy data also are missing in action.  Looks like it’s time for a FOIA demand.


P.S.: To its credit, Richmond has at least published some truancy data.  The State Board of Education deliberately abides by its failure to even collect data by which it might perform its statutory duty to “see that the [mandatory attendance laws] are properly enforced throughout the Commonwealth.”