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Renville County attorney to roll out new truancy strategy

A more aggressive approach to truancy in Renville County will require school buy-in. A proposal from the Renville County attorney calls for earlier intervention when a student starts missing school or classes.

Kelsie Kingstrom PS.jpg
Kelsie Kingstrom
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OLIVIA — A more aggressive approach to truancy in Renville County schools will be rolled out to school staff members in meetings scheduled Aug. 11 and Aug. 18.

The success of the program will depend greatly on whether schools in the county support it. “It’s going to take a huge amount of school buy-in,” Renville County Attorney Kelsey Kingstrom told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 2.

Kingstrom, who was appointed county attorney earlier this year, proposed the new truancy strategy as a counter to the county's current policy, which did not put a truant student before a judge until he or she had missed 22 or more days of school.

“That’s a disservice,” said Kingstrom. By that point, a student has already missed too much school to advance to the next grade and will have to repeat the grade, she said.

Under the new policy, a student will be standing in front of a judge after seven missed days of school.

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The new approach will ask schools to report students missing as soon as they record two days of unexcused absences.

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Importantly, the program also asks that school staff be part of meetings involving students, their parents or guardians, and county attorney staff when truancy issues are flagged.

According to the plan, a letter will be sent by the Renville County Attorney’s Office to parents and guardians when a student has two days of unexcused absences. The letter will alert the parents to the absences, and encourage them to contact school staff to address the issue.

When a student has three days of unexcused absences, a meeting will be scheduled involving the county attorney’s staff, the student, a school representative and the parents or guardians.

Six unexcused absences will trigger another meeting, this one including a school counselor or administrator along with the parents or guardians, students and attorney staff. It will alert the offending party that one more absence will make them truant under the law.

Seven unexcused absences is technically a truancy, according to the attorney. She said she will file a petition with the court when a student has seven unexcused absences and bring the student before the district judge.

What constitutes excused or unexcused absences is determined by the individual schools. Kingstrom noted that missing one class, say skipping English to spend time with friends in the cafeteria, could be counted toward the seven total that constitutes truancy.

The attorney said she was motivated to propose the new truancy policy after being approached by a school administrator.

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Commissioner Greg Snow said he has fielded questions from people who have heard about the attorney’s intentions to implement a truancy program. He and Commissioner Bob Fox said they’ve also heard from people who believe some schools have not always alerted parents when students miss school.

Kingstrom told the commissioners that she has a special interest in taking on truancy. She said there is a correlation between students not going to school and those her office sees.

She said her goal is to intervene when there is the most opportunity for success. “Point is, corrective action can’t take place at 22 days,” Kingstrom said.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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