Wadena County program helps address school attendance

Wadena County school districts, the attorney’s office, Human Services and Community Corrections have started a new program to walk with students through understanding truancy and the variety of barriers and reasons students miss class.

A series of green trees with the shape of Wadena County in blue.
Contributed / Wadena County

WADENA — A county-wide collaboration is helping students, families and schools address truancy. Wadena County school districts, the attorney’s office, Human Services and Community Corrections have started a new program to walk with students through understanding truancy and the variety of barriers and reasons students miss class.

The program offers a single process for addressing absences to the Wadena-Deer Creek, Verndale, Sebeka, Menahga and Staples school districts. Morrison, Clay and Otter Tail counties also have similar programs. Over time, the program will help students, families, schools and the community, including with a decrease in court filings.

As members of the work group, or “school squad,” county attorney Kyra Ladd, child protection supervisor Bobbe Anderson, Wadena and Todd counties Community Concern for Youth youth worker Dan Huebsch and Human Services director Jennifer Westrum shared about the program with commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 15. Each school district has members of the group and are glad to see the program move forward.

“We know that education neglect and truancy is a symptom of something else that’s going on,” Anderson said. “We believe, and I believe, that having Human Services, Corrections, all of us at the table to look at the bigger picture—the schools can’t do this on their own, they can’t do it in isolation, Probation can’t do it on their own—and so together maybe we can kind of tackle this and get to the root of what’s going on.” She has worked in child protection for 15 years and noted education neglect and truancy as a “pragmated” process.

Truancy is defined as “a child’s willful absence without lawful excuse from one or more class periods on seven different school days” for children 12 years old and older. Educational neglect, for children 5 to 11 years old, is defined as “a parent or guardian’s failure to ensure the child attends school as required by law.”


Students aren’t able to attend school due to a variety of reasons including housing, transportation, chemical dependency and mental health issues. Students might have barriers getting to school as well as obstacles from attending class once they have arrived at school. Each district will still have their own attendance policies.

When the group formed in 2020, school districts had different processes for truancy, and the pandemic’s distance learning and absences related to illness showed new challenges. Ladd also noted summer programming is not a regular offering for all districts.

They are used to seeing “school bumps” as students move from one school to the next, though the program helps students not have to start over. Counties with these programs in place are able to communicate about what has been done as students might need to transition to a school in another county.

“Time is the one commodity that you don’t get back,” Ladd said. “So if kids aren’t in school, they’re not engaged, we’re missing out and it’s really hard for them to catch up.”

“When you get buried and you’re already behind, there’s no motivation to engage, to try to do differently and that’s why time is our enemy in this thing and that’s why we’re trying to get in front of it,” she added.

From June 2020 to June 2021, Wadena-Deer Creek and Verndale had 79% of students referred to CCY for attendance concerns not go to court or have probation for truancy. WDC had eight students on probation and Verndale had seven, as shared in CCY documents in August 2021 with the school boards. CCY services are also available to the Area Learning Center and parochial and private schools in the county.

The attendance program provides education on truancy and resources to students and families. Truancy is against the law and could impact students receiving their driver’s license and graduation, as group members explained.

“The parents, school, and community are all partners in working towards the goal of school attendance and educational success,” the brochure reads. Huebsch noted the program has been “well received” by families.


The mediation process includes steps with each of the group members depending if attendance is able to be addressed. Early in the process, families and students are invited to a mediation meeting to understand the absences. Anderson said students are the “captain” of the meeting. If students or families are not able to attend the meeting, it is a reflection of the ongoing situation.

Since starting the process this year, there have been five or six mediation meetings. The county has a social worker with 50% of their time dedicated to addressing truancy. Schools also have social workers who support students throughout the day.

The program’s goal is short-term involvement to support students and families before any possible court system involvement. With the court, Ladd said children can be placed out of their homes. The program offers proactive steps, which will benefit the community and help taxpayer savings over time. Human Services also has voluntary services available that are not court-ordered.

“No one has enough staff to deal with this issue but we all believe that this is extremely important and we believe in the cause behind this (program) because once we end up in court with a child we’ve failed. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we do, that is going to be the end result but that isn’t where any of us want to be and that isn’t the best for the children and their families,” Westrum said.

A contract with the school districts for a social worker, including district and grant funding, will come to the county board in the future.

During the Feb. 15 meeting, the board also:

  • Thanked Dr. Leonard Lamberty for his 42 years as the Public Health medical consultant. He was also active on the Public Health advisory team. Dr. Ben Hess will start as the new medical consultant in March with training from Lamberty.
  • Approved transfering $165,000 to the Solid Waste committed funds account. The funds are budgeted and are loosely planned for capital improvements and landfill closure costs. The current demolition landfill is good for about 10 years, according to Solid Waste supervisor Wade Miller. Though the amount of demolition could change the time frame, such as building demolition expected next year. 
  • Agreed on the agricultural film plastic rental and service agreement with Otter Tail and Todd counties. The agreement states users will follow rules and reminds users the county owns the dumpsters. People can opt-out of the program at any time and the county will pick up their dumpster, as Miller said. A two-year grant covers the costs, and a fee will be included in the future.
  • Awarded the bid to Anderson Brothers Construction for a mill and overlay project on Highway 2 from CSAH 26 to CSAH 30 to start in June. The bid is about 10% under the estimated cost at $780,026.03. There are federal and state aid funds to cover the cost.
  • Learned a 2026 road project received about $1.2 million in federal funds. The 8-mile project is for mill and overlay on CSAH 23 from CSAH 6 to CSAH 12.
  • Discussed the Kitchigami Regional Library budget. Commissioner Murlyn Kreklau said he is concerned about bookmobile services and hours at the library based on costs. Commissioner Jon Kangas said he’s not sure services will be impacted, though increasing county funds for the bookmobile would be a “no-brainer.” 
  • Set Mike Weyer and Sheldon Monson as the commissioners attending the Sourcewell annual meeting on April 20.
  • Discussed a property sale and labor contract negotiations in closed sessions.
Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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