Statement from Chancellor Henderson Regarding Inaccuracies in Petula Dvorak’s Washington Post Column – ’13-year-old piano prodigy is treated as a truant instead of a star student’

From a press release:

“District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson released the following statement highlighting inaccuracies in Petula Dvorak column in today’s Washington Post. DCPS is hopeful Avery will return to her school very soon:

The recent Washington Post column by Petula Dvorak titled In D.C., a 13-year-old piano prodigy is treated as a truant instead of a star student,” is inaccurate and misleading in its portrayal of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) truancy protocols, as well as what happened with the family and DCPS. We are disappointed Ms. Dvorak chose to present a false representation of DCPS’ response about this child’s circumstances rather than taking the time to collect the relevant facts. We believe it is important to set the record straight:

· DCPS excused Avery’s absences for international travel last year after conversations with the family and her school, which was confirmed with Avery’s parents by Andrea Allen, Director of Attendance and Support Services in DCPS’ Office of Youth Engagement. Her attendance summary from last year reflects the “authorized school activity” excuse code for her performance–related absences.

· DCPS did not make a referral to a truancy officer, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) nor any government agency for intervention, since we had clear information regarding the circumstances of these absences. The family was never at risk for truancy prosecution.

· No DCPS student is ever labeled or identified as a “truant” on a transcript, report card, or academic record.

· While DCPS has universal truancy policies in place, we work diligently to recognize unique situations.

It seems that in this matter, while DCPS was working with the family to excuse the student’s absences, the automatic letter that is generated when a student reaches ten unexcused absences was sent. After a conversation with the Office of Youth Engagement, the family was told to disregard the letter. We also confirmed by phone for the parents that no CFSA referral had been completed, nor would this escalate any further. We believed our communication with the family as recently as August 25 clarified that Avery’s absences had been excused. We were surprised to learn that this is the reason why Avery was voluntarily withdrawn from her school. We sincerely apologize for any confusion that the cross-communication might have conveyed.

We recognize that Avery’s circumstances are unique, and we’ve worked closely with her family to support this specific situation. Last year, for example, DCPS ensured that Avery was able to take high school level math courses to meet her academic needs. School staff was aware that Avery’s travel schedule would result in an accrual of absences, and worked to ensure completion of key school assignments during her travels. We are very proud of Avery’s accomplishments throughout her entire educational career as a DC public school student, and we are hopeful that her parents will enroll her back at her back at Deal Middle School soon.

This is also an opportunity to clarify and provide insight about truancy in DCPS. Truancy laws are explicit to ensure consistent in-seat attendance in school, as well as to provide a safety net for students who are not attending school, and may be in harm’s way. Our schools notify families, usually with an automated phone call, after the first unexcused absence. Automated letters are sent from the school to families after a student accrues five, seven and ten unexcused absences. The letter shares details about the law and attendance requirements for students. If a student from age five to 13 accrues ten unexcused absences, schools are required to report those absences to CFSA. When schools contact CFSA, they provide the details they know that may have contributed to the student’s unexcused absences. CFSA proceeds accordingly, contacting the family to understand why the student was absent. In cases when CFSA determines that the absences are not cause for concern and the child is safe, no further action is taken.

While the law is very clearly defined, it is important to recognize the relationships schools have with families. They often know about extenuating circumstances that may lead to a student acquiring absences. Schools are obligated to report these unexcused absences to ensure compliance with the law. We also have the flexibility to excuse, in certain situations, extenuating circumstances, which we did for this student. As we continue to work to make improvements in enforcing truancy protocols, the lesson here is the need for better and more timely communication. However, we take very seriously our dual responsibility to protect and support all students, in all parts of this city. The law, and the resulting protocols, ensures critical checks and balances to protect our city’s young people.”

31 Comment

  • This kid will probably be out of DCPS and on a scholarship at one of the area’s premiere private schools within the year. Nice job missing the forest for the trees, DCPS.

  • Petula Dvorak is the worst of a bad bunch of WaPo columnists.

    • Come on. Courtland “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine” Milloy is channeling some seriously offensive anger about bike riders.

      Dvorak is just . . . . kind of amateurish.

    • I agree, she’s garbage. And just another example of how far the Post has fallen from the realm of quality, respectable journalism over the years.

    • Worse than George Will? Roger Cohen? Courtland Milloy? Hmm… I mean yes, she’s bad, but I wouldn’t say she is the worst…

      • Yes. I’d say she’s the worst. The others you mention (well I’m not familiar with Roger Cohen) have at least taught me something, or expanded my viewpoint in a meaningful way, at some point.

    • Dvorak: rhymes with “hack.” I have never read anything by her that was true or meaningful.

      Personal aside: she adopted some brother kittens from WARL, returned them, and then wrote a column about it. My family later adopted those same brother kittens, and they have turned into the best dadgum cats you could hope for. True story. No animus, to the contrary her loss is my gain. But it shows that Dvorak is wrong about EVERYTHING.

    • The Post’s columnist lineup is disgraceful. Still, as far as local DC coverage goes, I think Courtland and Petula are standouts for the misinformed, idiotic, inane drivel they churn out on a distressingly consistent basis. While Courtland tends to go for the straight up troll angle, Petula goes for the human interest angle and somehow manages to mangle even that. They both should be permanently banned from writing, but I guess at least Courtland seems to know what he’s playing at?

  • of course Deal

  • jim_ed

    Wait, the Queen of half-baked pearl clutching wrote a factually inaccurate column without getting a response from the other side? I’m Shocked, I tell you. All her columns end up being some variation of “Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?!?!” If Jeff Bezos is reading this (and really, why wouldn’t he be?), then please fire every local columnist not named Colbert King and start over. They are all awful in their each special way.

    • Colbert King is also awful in his own special way.

    • I agree with you, but keep Eugene Robinson as well.

    • What have you got against John Kelly?

      • jim_ed

        I don’t have anything specifc against John Kelly per se, although I’d be lying if I said I don’t hold that stupid hat in low regard. Rather, I just think there’s half a dozen other people who could write his column much, much better. He writes these lightweight, rather dull histories of local ephemera, which would be a thousand times better if given to someone like Ghosts of Washington or John DeFerrari. His Readers’ Digest style of old timey romanticizing would be much better suited in Washingtonian or something similar rather than the Post.

  • I have no problem believing that DCPS mucked it up. But the tone of that article makes me take whatever side the writer isn’t on. Writing like that belongs on a neighborhood listserve (“a quarter of a thousand people!!!”) not in what is supposed to be a world-class newspaper.

  • I don’t really have an opinion on who is right on the facts here, but did DCPS really just issue a press release that includes a bunch of information from a child’s personal file? There are easy ways to say the article was incorrect without including the personal information. I have to deal with nonpublic information in my job and have to respond to incorrect claims about that nonpublic information, and this is not the way to do it.

    • I dunno, I think that once the parents voluntarily put the personal information out there, it’s fair game to address and even correct any misinformation.

  • I have a hard time getting past the typos in this press release. how can you be a SCHOOL system and not proofread your public statements?? It’s horrid.

  • I’ve worked with both Petula Dvorak and Robert McCartney on stories, and I think both are great columnists who do their best to call out the hypocrisy of our region. In particular, Petula’s reporting on our area’s homeless residents stands out. She’s one of the only Post reporters who puts a name and a face to homelessness, and as an advocate for the homeless, I applaud her for her work. Seriously, I don’t get the haters.

    • You don’t get the haters? Did you read any of the comments critiquing her work? Or how about an entire press release discrediting her entire story? Maybe she does highlight your favorite issue, but that doesn’t mean the rest of her body of work isn’t crap.

    • clevelanddave

      Why if there is so much love do you need to come here anonymously?

    • Shorter version: I work with the aforementioned hack, so I have a vested interest in defending her. She’s awesome!

  • Petula Dvorak is my neighbor and parks her van illegally every freaking day. Drives me crazy…

  • I don’t get all the hate to the author. It’s a press release, that doesn’t make it fact. DCPS is just covering their butts. A big problem seems to be the process around how truancies are reported and evaluated. The parents should have never got those letters, and I don’t blame them if they were afraid to believe a directive to ignore them if it wasn’t conveyed in writing.

    DCPS can say whatever they want, but until they fix the system they are in the wrong and need to be held accountable.

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