Lawrence school board to consider partnerships on truancy, restorative justice

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Post updated at 3:59 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23:

The Lawrence school board on Monday will look to solidify an MOU with county agencies to prevent truancy, as well as a new partnership for a third party to facilitate restorative justice agreements.

Board members will vote for final approval of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with county agencies that’s designed to reduce and prevent truancy among students in the district. District administrators and county partners initially presented the truancy prevention program to the board during its Aug. 28 meeting.

Students are considered truant if they are absent without excuse for a “significant portion” of the school day for three days in a row, for five days in a semester, or for seven days in a school year. As district leaders became increasingly concerned about chronic absenteeism — missing 10% or more of school days for any reason — they devised the truancy prevention program. Its goal is to keep students on track with attendance, and in turn, keep them from being subjected to the criminal legal system for truancy.

Board member Erica Hill previously raised concerns about an initial program flyer that portrayed a Black student as a program participant. She said the depiction was an oversight that reinforced stereotypes of students of color. Kelsey Dachman, founder and CEO of Center for Supportive Communities, on Sept. 15 said her organization had edited the flyer shortly after Hill voiced the issue.

Updates made to the previous draft of the MOU include minor edits and an additional section that gives an overview of the district’s approach to equity. Services provided by all other parties are summarized in the agreement, too.

The agreement includes the Douglas County district attorney’s Office, Kansas Department for Children and Families, Douglas County Criminal Justice Services – Youth Programs, Center for Supportive Communities and O’Connell Children’s Shelter. View the final draft of the MOU up for the board’s approval on BoardDocs.

MOU on restorative justice facilitations

The board on Monday will also consider approving an MOU with Building Peace, a local organization that provides services in mediation, conflict resolution and restorative justice. 

Building Peace is currently partnering with the Douglas County district attorney’s office to help mediate agreements between victims and offenders after crimes are committed, according to the organization’s program director, Lyle Seger. 

The DA’s office refers some incidents of students involved in criminal activities on school property, or en route to or from school, to Building Peace. Those are either filed cases or cases in pre-filing. In line with restorative justice, or restorative practices, Building Peace facilitators then work with the victims and offenders to identify the harm done and find reconciliation.

If approved, the MOU would essentially bridge a gap so that the district and Building Peace can communicate about cases related to crimes in schools. 

Lyle Seger

“Our whole goal is to try to keep these kids from getting into this school-to-prison pipeline,” Seger said. “Especially on first-time offenses, if we can interrupt their behaviors and get them back on track, that’s what our job is.”

Seger said Building Peace has so far dealt with one case in which police were called to a school because a student had participated in criminal damage to property. Facilitators were able to mediate the situation. But they haven’t yet been able to help incidents of physical fights between students, for example, because they couldn’t talk to district staff.

With written consent from parents and guardians of students involved, the MOU would allow employees who are directly familiar with any referred cases to share information with facilitators, Seger said. That would help them have a fuller understanding of what has happened.

Building Peace facilitators would interview both the offenders and the victims as well as people who may be supporting either parties throughout the process, Seger said. Restorative justice can only take place if both parties willingly accept, and Seger said the key is to get all parties involved in a room together to come to an agreement.

To give a new approach to behavior issues, the district a few years ago adopted restorative practices. The process is victim-centered, but Seger said it also aims to transform the offender’s mindset for the better.

If either party in a particular case isn’t interested in participating, Building Peace will seek community volunteers to participate in restorative justice. Seger said Building Peace has created Neighborhood Accountability Boards, so far composed of 20 community members who are trained in restorative justice. They would stand in to help devise a diversion agreement.

Successful agreements between offenders and victims could potentially keep students from criminal charges. That’s the goal, Seger said. If an agreement is not reached or a party decides not to participate, the case would be returned to the DA’s office for charging consideration.

The board will look to approve the MOU as part of its consent agenda, a list of items that are considered altogether with one vote, unless a board member or the superintendent asks to pull an item for discussion.

If approved, the district’s partners would include Building Peace, the DA’s office and Douglas County Criminal Justice Services.

Douglas County CJS pays for the program costs using Kansas Department of Corrections Reinvestment Grant funds for youth who have been served by CJS in some capacity. Service fees would be assessed on a per-case basis at an hourly rate of $75, according to the MOU draft, but services would be at no cost to the school district or families.

View the draft of the MOU on BoardDocs.

In other business:

• Open enrollment: Board members on Monday will invite feedback from community members about the district’s proposed open enrollment policy. They will then look to approve the draft of the policy.

Starting during the 2024-25 school year, Kansas public school students can freely transfer into districts where they do not reside. The district is currently working on its own version of the statewide policy that discusses building capacity, transportation and more.

The public hearing is the first item on the regular meeting agenda, beginning at 6 p.m. View the district’s draft of its open enrollment policy on BoardDocs.

• Lawrence Virtual School work session: The board on Monday will also meet an hour before its regular session begins to have a work session with Lawrence Virtual School (LVS) staff.

Staff members will discuss with the board funding for virtual schools, state requirements, enrollment patterns and staffing, according to the meeting agenda item. They’ll show different virtual school models, and teachers will be able to share their recent experiences.

View LVS staff’s presentation as well as state requirement references for Monday on BoardDocs.

The board will begin with the work session at 5 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel,, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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Note: This post has been updated to correct and include further information on the MOU with Building Peace.

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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