Mandan News

When weather warrants school closings

By Mike Bitz
Mandan School Superintendent

How does the school decide whether or not to have school during inclement weather?
There are many factors that go into the decision to close or postpone school, including snowfall, temperature, winds and wind chill, road conditions, as well as the forecasts and local reports of current and future weather conditions. When a factor or combination of factors leads to conditions that pose an extreme threat to students, school may be cancelled, postponed or dismissed early. Before making that decision, I visit with Jeff Lind, Mandan’s Asst. Superintendent and Ryan Lagasse, Mandan’s Facilities and Transportation Director as well as school officials from Bismarck to get their thoughts and opinions. The safety of all of our students is important to us and we would never want to put them in undue danger.

What if I don’t feel comfortable about sending my children to school on a bus during inclement weather?
The hard part about weather conditions is that we all have different perceptions. One person’s treacherous conditions may be another’s average North Dakota winter day. The school is asked to make a judgment based on the overall threat for all students, but as parents, ultimately it is you that needs to decide what is right for you and your children. If you are not comfortable putting your students on a bus due to concerns with weather conditions, you have every right to make that decision.

The school does expect that during the winter months, students are dressing warmly, with boots, hats, gloves and winter coats, and that parents are making sure that students are dressed for any potential emergency that may occur on a bus or in a car. We all know that North Dakota winters can be harsh, but extreme weather does not necessarily equate to life threatening weather if we are prepared.

How can I find out if school is cancelled, postponed or will be dismissing early?
When school is called off or starting late, we will do our best to make that decision by 6:15 a.m. As soon as the decision is made, we will send out a message using the instant alert system so that students and parents are aware of the decision and can plan accordingly. If you would like to receive a call, email, or text message, please visit with the secretary in the school building in which your children are enrolled to make sure your contact information is up-to-date in PowerSchool. In addition to the instant alert notification, we will also post any cancellation or late start information on the school districts website www.mandan.k12.nd.us, and notify the local television and radio stations.

Does time missed from school need to be made up on an hour for hour basis?
If at all possible, schools are supposed to make up all time missed from school. Schools are expected to do this by using their two required storm days, and if necessary, any other school breaks available in their calendar. ND Century Code 15.1-06-04 states that “If a school is closed or released early because of severe weather or other emergency conditions, the school is to make every effort possible to provide 175 days of classroom instruction.”

Does the law provide for any exceptions to making up school time lost to weather related absences?
A provision in ND Century Code 15-1-06-04 does state that if a school calendar includes at least 84 hours beyond the required yearly minimum hours, then the school is exempt from having to make-up 6 hours of instruction time lost to weather-related closures. The Mandan School District does qualify for this exemption. This means that the Mandan School is allowed one missed school day without needing to make-up the lost time. We will use this exemption to cover the weather related absence the Mandan School District experienced on Jan. 6.

Can the Governor grant a waiver to cover school time missed due to bad weather?
NDCC 15.1-06-04 does allow the Governor to “waive additional days if rescheduling of classes would cause an undue hardship”. However, since school districts are required to build two storm days into their calendar and the law already provides for one weather related absence, it is difficult for a school district to claim undue hardship in rescheduling classes until they have missed at least three days of school due to bad weather.

If you have any topics or items that you would like me to discuss in future columns, or you would like to comment on this article, please feel free to call me at the school (751-6500) or E-mail me at Mike.Bitz@msd1.org with your thoughts and ideas.