GRAND FORKS — Under a new law governing school calendars, “storm days” are a thing of the past in North Dakota, where school administrators have more flexibility in their instructional schedules, according to the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
Grand Forks public schools were closed Friday due to inclement weather, giving rise to concern about possible make-up days next spring. But because of that additional flexibility for administrators, those worries are unnecessary, educational officials say.
The law concerning school calendars was changed in the 2019 legislative session to require a minimum number of hours, rather than days, of instruction during the school year, so school boards and administrators no longer have to build “storm days” into their calendars, said Dale Wetzel, public information specialist with DPI.
The law states that there must be at least 962.5 hours of instruction for elementary students and at least 1,050 hours of instruction for middle school and high school students during the school year, Wetzel said.
Under the former law, school boards were required to build “storm days” into their calendars, he said. At a minimum, the number of days had to be an average of the number of days during the previous five years when class had to be canceled or cut short because of severe weather or other emergency conditions.
That provision has been removed, according to Wetzel, noting that school boards may still include “storm time” in their calendars, but they were not required to do so.
“As you know, last winter was somewhat harsh, and this resulted in a number of districts exhausting their ‘storm day’ allotment,” he said. “School districts that believed they could not make up all their storm days petitioned the governor for waivers of the law that required a minimum of days of instruction.”
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The Grand Forks School District was among those making that request. It asked for and received a waiver for four days, said Superintendent Terry Brenner.
In Grand Forks public schools, the length of instruction day at all levels -- elementary, middle and high school -- exceeds state requirements by at least 30 minutes, he said.
“So you multiply that by 176 days, and we have lots of flexibility,” he said. “We will not be making up time (next spring) unless something extraordinary happens.”
Grand Forks education leaders were happy with the change in the school calendar law, Brenner said. “It works very well for us.”
“It’s fair to say the change in the school calendar law gives school boards and administrators more flexibility in scheduling,” Wetzel said.
During the 2019 legislative session, one of the primary arguments for the “days to hours” change was that it would give administrators more flexibility in making up lost time and reduce the need to request a waiver from the minimum instructional time requirement.