There are many challenges families are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. As staff members with the be@school program, we understand how difficult school engagement is during this unpredictable time. Now more than ever, school engagement can be difficult given the unique learning environments students are facing daily.
In response, a new COVID-19 referral has been established, which school reporters send to the be@school program. The referral outlines the complications a student may be encountering beyond unexcused absences, such as limited or no access to the Internet or lack of resources to complete schoolwork.
The referral acts as a preventative measure to ensure students struggling with engagement are not simply declared truant. The referral connects families to voluntary case management services, which assist finding community resources.
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. Be@school staff realized they needed to have a better understanding on why a child misses school, and delved deeper into the issue to find answers. Now, staff with the be@school program might send a child with only seven missed days to child protection, but someone who missed 20 might avoid the court system. They have also 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 a 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 the number of students referred from schools in Hennepin County to be@school has increased between 6 and 9 percent each year. And yet, 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