Republican Lawmakers Introducing Bill to Allow Make up of Snow Days With Virtual School Days

Alexa Hubbard walks across the University of Mary campus in blowing snow and winds gusting to 25 mph, which created ground blizzard conditions during a 2016 storm. Photo by Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

As we head into another one of North Dakota’s notoriously unpredictable winters, school closures because of inclement weather will be much on our minds. But with school closures come make up days, which see schools opening when they’d be normally closed in order to meet state requirements for instruction time.

It’s a drag, but a couple of Republican lawmakers from the Jamestown area think they might have a solution, and they’re submitting it as legislation for the upcoming 2019 session starting next year.

“Where the idea came from was a 4th grade class at Louis L’Amour Elementary School in Jamestown,” Rep. Jim Grueneich, a Republican from District 12, told me this morning. He said teacher Kirsten Landenburger and her students hit upon the idea during a “mock legislative process for a classroom study.”

“They had kind of done some research on different states that had some different programs for in the event of inclement weather, you wouldn’t necessarily have to make up the day via classroom,” Grueneich told me. “You could do it via internet.”

“The end result is it should be a taxpayer savings,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a need to run school for the makeup days.”

He said he and fellow Republican Rep. Bernie Satrom, also from District 12, have been working on the legislation since May and looped in Superintendent of Schools Kirsten Baesler as a part of the process.

When I contacted Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel he said their office was aware of the proposal, but it wasn’t clear yet whether or not Baesler would be supporting it. “This is not a DPI bill or something that DPI is going to be introducing,” Wetzel told me. “We would need to look at the language before deciding whether to support it.”

Grueneich shared with me a draft his his legislation (see it below), and in its present form it would require school districts to submit an application to DPI to make up days with a virtual school day.

But the point isn’t to do away with snow days, or even develop this tool exclusively for weather cancellations.

“We wouldn’t necessarily be getting rid of snow days,” Grueneich told me. “What we could do is in the vent of a snow day, or when we know we’re going to have a blizzard day, or possibly if a child is ill and shouldn’t be in a school environment, students could have a virtual school day.”

“Let’s say for instance today was a no school day due to the icy road school conditions,” he continued. “The teacher would already have her itinerary set for the day. The students could log in for a virtual school day and there wouldn’t be a make up day.”

There would need to be widespread participation for a virtual day to count as a make-up for a school day canceled because of weather or for other reasons. “If there’s an 80 percent participation the state wouldn’t recognize it as a missed day. The virtual school day would replace the day that got canceled,” Grueneich told me. UPDATE: Grueneich told me during our conversation that 80 percent participation would be required, but the bill draft he sent me (below) says 95 percent.

He thinks this could save the taxpayers money. “The end result is it should be a taxpayer savings,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a need to run school for the makeup days.”

What would be needed to make this happen from a technology standpoint?

“Most of the schools already have the camera systems in place. It would really just be the matter of a laptop. You would log into the school and your teacher would be on your computer screen or laptop,” Grueneich said.

This also wouldn’t be mandatory for any school district. “We’re going to give schools the option of opting in or opting out,” Grueneich added, noting that the program might first be implemented as a pilot project at school districts who have the technology in place.

Here’s the draft legislation:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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