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JAMESTOWN — Elementary school students from Jamestown who took an idea from the classroom all the way to the North Dakota State Legislature will find out Monday if it passes a scheduled House vote.

House Bill 1170 would allow school districts to enact a virtual education plan for students and teachers to hold online classes from home when schools are closed due to bad weather. It would negate the need for makeup days to meet the minimum 175 school days per year.

The House Education Committee by a vote of 11-2 sent the bill with a do not pass recommendation to the House. But legislator feedback was positive on the concept, said Rep. Jim Grueneich, R-Jamestown, who introduced the bill with fellow lawmaker Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, and co-sponsors Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier; Rep. Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown; and Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown.

The concept was supported but there was debate over the required 95 percent student participation with virtual learning on a school closing day, Grueneich said. The percentage is for calculating state aid payments that waive a makeup day, he said.

Satrom said HB 1170 would establish a pilot project to give school districts the option of adopting a virtual learning plan. The idea is a work in progress and will take time to shape into something that works for everyone, he said.

“The concept was never intended to replace school days or replace the valuable instructional time that a teacher provides a student in a one-on-one environment,” Satrom said. “It was intended to give schools an option to make up inclement weather days just as we currently have via virtual instruction.”

Jeff Fastnacht, assistant superintendent of the Mandan Public School District, said he applauded the work of the students and that Mandan Public Schools already provide students with personal devices and uses an online learning management system. But he opposes HB 1170, he said.

Another issue with HB 1170 is that it doesn’t consider homes with multiple children who share one or a few devices, he said. Students requiring specific instructional support, interventions and services also need to be addressed in the bill, he said.

Aimee Copas, executive director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, said the Louis L’Amour Elementary School students did solid work and she supports the positive intent behind HB 1170. The bill as written, however, creates potential inequities with students without access to internet or devices, the 95 percent participation requirement and how school districts not equipped to implement a virtual learning plan can participate, she said.

“Even the best idea always needs to be investigated from all sides,” Copas said. “Sometimes, a great idea can be made better through investigating both the positive and the possible negative.”

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