Could addressing attendance in Prince George’s Co. schools solve bigger problems, too?

Ever since the pandemic began to ebb, law enforcement have had to contend with an increase in crimes committed by kids. Despite a constant drumbeat for help from parents and the community, the stories stay the same: Every few months, carjackings and violent robberies spike, and more and more teenagers are put in handcuffs as a result.

But now, county leaders are ready to look beyond the justice system and to the empty desk in the classroom instead.

“What we have found is that a number of young people who we are prosecuting, when we pull their student records, we find that many of them have not been in school at all, or have really terrible attendance records,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. “We know that there is a relationship, a connection between young people who make a poor decisions in our communities also making the decision not to go to school.”

But one frustration that educators in the county have is that, at the moment, there’s not much they can really do to get kids back in the classroom. In an effort to change that this fall, the Prince George’s County Council is working to put together a work group that will begin examining possible solutions for what’s being described as a “crisis” in some circles.

“There’s no actual real intervention across the board to catch it early and to divert these young people back into the school system, or figure out why they’re not attending school,” said council member Krystal Oriadha, who is the lead sponsor of the resolution to create this new work group. A majority of her colleagues have already signed on as co-sponsors.

“If they don’t have the tools, the resources, the policy, the authority, the procedure set in place, what can they really do?” Oriadha asked. “If we want to make sure that the school, and the school system as a whole, has the resources that they need, then we need to be having this conversation and we need to be making sure that we’re making the changes needed to policy or to the budget that allows for this change.”

Over the summer, new PGCPS superintendent Millard House alluded to a program in Texas that saw school system personnel visit the homes of students in order to better assess the needs and barriers that kept kids out of the classroom. Oriadha said something like that might need to be considered in Prince George’s County too.

“I think the real change will be having a system at each individual school that allows for individuals to assess the needs of what’s happening in that school system individually with the young people and in the families there,” said Oriadha, “and then they also have the resources to meet the needs.”

But she acknowledged that will be difficult.

“We haven’t paused to think about how can we change policies and procedures to empower our school system — if it’s principals, teachers, nonprofits — to have the resources and abilities that they need to intervene early,” said Oriadha.

As the resolution moves into enactment in the coming months, Oriadha hopes to have representatives from the school system, the justice system, the county council and local nonprofit groups on this work group. She said it will also be important to have student representation, since they’re the ones who will be the most impacted.

The goal is to have the work group seated by the end of the calendar year, with the first report and recommendations ready to go by the end of the school year.

“Usually our work groups might meet for a year before they have a report,” said Oriadha. “Our goal is to actually start moving things in real time to move a little bit faster. That allows us to impact and make changes and adjustments.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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