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Steady truancy causing problems at DL schools

Truancy was one of the topics discussed at Monday morning's monthly school board meeting in Detroit Lakes.

A presentation by the school's attendance coordinator, Karin Fritz-Staley, raised some concerns about the issue of students missing school.

Although Fritz-Staley says the problem has been a fairly steady one over the last few years, she also emphasized the consequences some Detroit Lakes students face when they don't show up for school.

"In the New York Times, there was a study from Johns Hopkins University that showed the direct correlation between attendance rates and graduation rates," she said, adding that the state of Minnesota lets counties form their own truancy intervention process.

The statute defines 'continuing truant' as three days of unexcused absences for elementary students and three or more class periods for middle school students.

Habitual truancy is seven days for elementary and seven periods for high school or middle school (unexcused).

In Detroit Lakes, letters are sent out in both cases before sending the students (and parents) to an intervention meeting with a representative of the Becker County Attorney's Office and possibly with Human Services.

This past year, there were 26 students who attended one of those intervention meetings -- 16 from the high school, five from the middle school and five from one of the elementary schools. Out of those, 15 received human services involvement due to additional unexcused absences after the meeting.

Fritz-Staley says Becker County has a "pretty good system" for dealing with those cases, but there is still a big chunk of the student population that comes in with too many "excused" absences as well. According to statistics kept by Fritz-Staley, last year there were several Detroit Lakes students that missed more than 16 days of school.

There were 39 from Rossman Elementary (6 percent), 47 from Roosevelt Elementary (6 percent), 94 from the middle school (15 percent) and 215 from the high school (25 percent).

"And when you're talking about a kindergartener missing that much school, that's huge," said Fritz-Staley, who says parents sometimes assume kindergarten is like it was 30 years ago.

"It's not," she said. "These little kids are learning to read and write, and they're missing out on that."

School Board President Tom Seaworth expressed concern that "parents need to be parents" instead of allowing their students to miss school when it's not necessary. And although students who miss days for school-related activities were not included in these statistics, Seaworth told the board it might be worth looking into rescheduling some of those activities.

"Especially for some of those celebration weeks -- if some of those kids can miss school, why can't others?" Seaworth asked the board, "I think we're creating a culture where attendance isn't important."

In other board news

The Detroit Lakes School board also unanimously voted to select the ATS&R Architectural firm to help the district plan for new or renovated school buildings moving into the future.

The vote now puts the district in a place to negotiate a contract with the firm, which is expected to begin helping parent groups and school leaders tackle the space issue in the growing district.

Also put to vote was Superintendent Doug Froke's contract, which was renewed for another three years.

In the meeting, Froke also reported on enrollment in the Detroit Lakes School District, which he said is up 31 from last year at this time.