An article written by Fox News’s Chris Papst about the rate of absence in Baltimore City Public Schools was brought to my attention when it was posted and discussed by my neighbors on a website called NextDoor. The article discussed the findings of PROJECT BALTIMORE which, according to their website, is “an investigative reporting initiative” that “examines the unique challenges that confront the Baltimore area’s public school systems” with “significant emphasis [...] placed on investigating the Baltimore City Public School System which spends large sums of money on education, but yields sub-standard test score and low graduation rates.”
The article is a not-so-subtle attempt at fear mongering, feeding into its readers fears about the perceived inherent dangers that come with the overwhelming black and brown students in Baltimore City Public Schools by immediately drawing a correlation between poor attendance rates and increased violent juvenile crime in the city. In an attempt to further demonstrate his point about the low attendance rates in BCPSS, Papst shared the attendance rates of surrounding counties Baltimore County, Howard County, and Anne Arundel. While these districts do have attendance rates between 15 and 19 percent higher than Baltimore City’s, the article does not mention that these “surrounding districts” are considerably whiter and more affluent (MD Report Card), two advantages that make it significantly easier to be a student who’s at school every day.
Literature about the connection between poverty and absence seems prevalent enough to be assumed as public knowledge, especially by those who work in, care about, and write about public education. This makes it all the more confusing that the suggestion for improvement that the article seems to be suggesting is that BCPSS and its school police enforce the state truancy law which “hold[s] parents accountable with up to $500 in fines or jail time.” In a city whose residents are daily fighting battles against institutionalized racism, extreme poverty, and purposeful and persistent segregation, how can fining the parents of students who are obviously already struggling be the answer?