The Hennepin County Attorney's Office manages the be@school program, an important initiative to support our children's education and their future. Hear more from Mike Freeman.
When the new school year arrives, our office revs up its anti-truancy program, which began more than 20 years ago.
Now called be@school, this program is committed to keeping students out of the criminal justice system by focusing on attendance. Studies show that when students go to school, every day, on time, they are more likely to succeed. And if you succeed at school, you are less likely to commit crimes.
For years, the format was simple. After a child notched three unexcused absences, a letter was sent to the parents. If unexcused absences continued, a meeting was arranged with the parents, a school official and someone from our be@school program.
While that model worked fine, it lacked context. So last school year, Dr. Tim Zuel, who manages be@school, had his staff delve deeper into why a child missed school. Now, his staffers might send a child with only seven missed days to child protection, but someone who missed 20 might avoid the court system. Dr. Zuel and the staff discovered the student with only seven missed days might be dealing with severe parental neglect in the home. But the child with 20 absences has a loving family with transportation obstacles. They are willing to take the help offered and improve their child’s attendance.
In fact, be@school staff have found that the chief reason for tardiness or missing school days is transportation problems. The second major hurdle is a conflict between the child’s parent and the teacher or school administrator. Mediation can be set up through be@school to bring both sides together.
Statistics indicate the new approach is working. The program numbers show that in the past five years, including last school year, the number of students referred from schools in Hennepin County to be@school has increased between 6 and 9 percent each year. And yet, last year, the number of cases be@school sent to child protection for neglect dropped by 15 percent.
We are proud of this program and the good work the be@school staff is doing.
Hennepin County Attorney