High rates of truancy at the District's schools has led D.C. Councilman David Catania to call for parents whose children routinely skip to potentially lose public assistance benefits and even face jail time.

According to statistics sighted by Catania during a council hearing on Thursday, more than one of every five students had more than 20 unexcused absences.

"We can no longer permit the status quo," Catania told The Washington Examiner. "Kids with 20 or more unexcused absences have missed a month. They get so far behind, they can never recover."

A District law passed in 1990 calls for parents to be fined up to $100 if their child routinely skips school. But when Catania asked for evidence of its enforcement, he said it wasn't even clear which agency was charged with enforcing the law, let alone keeping track of it.

"We need to review wholesale the legal framework," Catania said. "Times have changed and punishments may need to be altered."

The new punishments, he said, could include a raised fine for parents, as well as the garnishing of public assistance. If students continue to skip, the parent could face jail time. The enforcement system also needs to be reviewed and reworked, he said.

"The state can't assert itself into the role of parent," Catania said. "Parents have to be the primary architects in making sure their kids are going to class."

That's not to say Catania only wants to apply the stick with no carrot.

He said preventing truancy must start early by creating a full picture of students' mental health and behavioral issues. Some skipping-school problems can be solved with better attention to a student's overall state of mind, Catania said.

Parents whose students are repeatedly truant could be required to meet with school administrators and sign a contract that describes the support their child needs to make sure the student is going to school. If the contract were to be breached, Catania said, the new enforcement measures would go into effect.

With the upcoming summer recess closely followed by the fall elections, Catania said he won't likely introduce truancy legislation until January.

Efforts to reach schools officials for comment late Thursday were unsuccessful.