District Digest: Snakes at the zoo, students skip school
This week in the District, eight tentacled snakes were born at the Smithsonian National Zoo, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announces an “education crisis” in the number of students with unexcused absences, and a robbery in Dupont Circle led to a car chase.
After four years of difficulty breeding the reptile, zookeepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo were surprised October 21 when eight tentacled snakes were born. The newborns will likely be sent to other zoos, as the National Zoo has four on display and few others in the country host the species, officials said.
This birth is the first time in 11 years that this species at this zoo has given birth to offspring able to survive outside the womb, according to the Washington Post.
“It could be that they were relatively young before,” keeper Matt Evans said to the Washington Post. “Even though they looked like they were pregnant this time, we weren’t expecting anything different.”
The snakes, which look like a cross between a slug and a snake, can grow up to four feet long. They are aquatic ambush hunters, officials said, and when hunting, they hold themselves under water using their tail and sense prey with their tentacles. Their venom is designed to attack prey in different ways but has not effect on humans.
“Within a few hours of being born, the snakes were already acting like adults,” Evans said in a news release. “Instincts took over and they were hunting.”
The snakes were on exhibit shortly but are now being privately cared for, according to the Washington Post. Once keepers deem them healthy enough with normal eating and growth, they will be put back on exhibit.
“We don’t know much about this cryptic species, but we’re already learning so much just watching them grow,” said Evans in the news release.
School and city officials hold hearing on anti-truancy efforts
D.C. Council members discussed truancy rates, at their meeting Thursday, during which D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that these rates are an educational “crisis,” according to the Washington Post. At least 40 percent of students missed a month or more of school in unexcused absences last year at Ballou, Anacostia, Spingarn, and Roosevelt high schools.
Henderson said that social problems prevalent in the families of the city’s poorest areas and students’ being behind in reading have contributed to low attendance in school.
“It should be no surprise to us that students we have failed for many years are now failing to come to school,” she said in the meeting.
The school system’s graduation rates, released Thursday, highlighted the effects of the truancy, as the schools with the lowest attendance also had the lowest graduation rates. About half of the 2011-2012 students graduated on time at Ballou, Spingarn, and Roosevelt. Forty percent of students graduated on time at Anacostia.
Henderson’s goal is to increase the percentage of students graduating on time to 75 by 2017, but the report indicated that graduation rates rose three percent last year to 56.
The school system is acting in accordance with a law that requires them to contact the Children and Family Services Agency when a child under the age of 13 has missed more than 10 days of school, according to the Wasington Post.
The school is also attempting to reach out to students with neighborhood collaboratives, and Henderson has spent $800,000 on social workers at high school with the worst attendance. Although attendance numbers remain low, the number of students with more than 10 absences has fallen in the past year.
“We’ve got to be focusing more on the younger grades… or else we’re continuing to grow new cohorts that are harder to deal with,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.
Holdup near Dupont Circle leads to car chase, gunshots
Masked gunmen robbed five men near Dupont Circle at the start of rush hour traffic Friday morning, leading to a car chase and gunshots, according to the Washington Post.
After the robbery, two of the men chased their assailants by car through downtown D.C. As they approached L street, one of the masked men leaned out of the car and shot at the two men pursuing them, but police said no one was hit. Authorities currently do not know the exact number of assailants, as three robbed the men but there may have been another in the car.
The victims reported the incident to uniformed U.S. Secret Service aganets near the White House and described the attackers’ vehicle as a white or silver Lincoln Town Car with the District License plate number EC-0424.
Authorities have not yet found the assailants, but D.C. Police Cmdr. George Kucik, who is heading the investigation, said in a news conference that law enforcement prefers that victims call police instead of taking matters into their own hands. He said the department was “not interested” in a case, such as traffic infractions, against the victims.
Kucik also said that at the moment the event appears isolated, though it was unusual for such a crime to occur downtown during rush hour.
Photo by Smithsonian National Zoo