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Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools launching pilot program to keep kids in class

Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools launching pilot program to keep kids in class Photo: KSTP

Updated: August 21, 2019 05:32 PM

Thousands of students stay home from school every year in Hennepin County.

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As students head back to class next month, the county is working with Minneapolis Public Schools to make sure they don’t miss a day.

“We have to be tireless,” said Colleen Kaibel, Student Retention and Recovery Director for the district.

“Behavior change could take 100 different attempts and we have to keep coming back and saying I believe, you believe, you can make a difference.”

She’s getting ready to launch a pilot program at Jenny Lind, Bryn Mawr and Andersen Elementary Schools.

Each school will have one person dedicated to supporting kindergarten through second grade students who have a history of staying home.


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“A lot of times there are obstacles that are out of their control,” she said. “It could be transportation, housing, family emergencies, health.”

The pilot program will be modeled after the district’s Check and Connect program, which is already in the middle and high schools.

Kaibel said they’ve already identified about 30 children in each elementary school who would be eligible to work with a mentor.

“They’ll check in with the teachers, the families, they'll offer academic support, home visits,” said Kaibel. “Getting to know the student, their families, what their needs are, what are their un-met needs and how do we provide those services.”

“We don’t want parents to be afraid if we say your child qualifies for Check and Connect service at this elementary school,” she said. “Often when families say ‘why my child?’ and I say I wish it was every child.”

The pilot is a partnership with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, working hand-in-hand with its Be @ School program.

Established more than 20 years ago, Be @ School connects families to community-based social workers once they’re on the county attorney’s radar.

“We're kind of all in it together,” said Dr. Tim Zuel, the Be @ School program manager. “It's about making this early connection.”

Under state law, the county has to be informed by a school district if a student misses seven or more days.

The pilot will allow Minneapolis Public Schools to reach out to the County Attorney’s Office after a student has missed only three days.

“A Check and Connect worker […] will be able to call us up and say, you know this is what we're doing but the kid needs more, we identified the kid needs more assistance,” said Zuel. “Then we'll know and we can assist more.”

“Right now we wait until the school reports the kid after they miss seven days and it just sometimes it feels like it's too late.”

Zuel said in the 2018-2019 school year, his office received 20,000 truancy reports. Some students have multiple reports filed against them.

“The actual raw numbers is about 4,000 children get reported, under age 12, for education neglect every year, it's been pretty constant,” said Zuel.

Zuel told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that about half of his cases come from Minneapolis.

According to Kaibel, last year the district filed 2,022 education neglect cases with Hennepin County for students 11-years-old and younger. She said 521 of those cases resulted in a child protection investigation.

“What we want to do is trim that number way down so that those who are sent to child protection are those who are truly in need of services,” said Kaibel.

The year-long pilot program starts in September. If it’s successful, Zuel said he’d like to see it rolled out in all Minneapolis elementary schools and other schools county-wide.

“Logic dictates that you want to intervene with the little kid, get them understanding school is important and then they will carry all the way through high school,” he said.

For Kaibel, “My message to families is we want to work with you, you are the key person in your child’s life, you have a strong impact and we want to nurture that with you.”

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