School cancellation conundrum

BISMARCK, N.D. - Gov. Doug Burgum says he's willing to consider granting waivers for school districts that have canceled school because of severe winter storms and dangerously cold temperatures, but only if the districts have made an effort to make up school time.

Bismarck and Mandan canceled school last week because of the cold. But Friday, schools were only delayed.

Bismarck Interim Superintendent Jim Haussler says there's much more than just the cold that gets considered before making the last call to close schools across the district.

Children headed into school two hours late Friday morning as temperatures warmed up to 17 degrees below zero with no wind chill.

"I think a little bit that was different today was the fact that the forecast was going to improve as the day went on. I think that’s a factor. And I think the fact that the wind died out a little bit earlier," said Jim Haussler, Bismarck Public Schools interim superintendent.

Haussler says the cold is just one factor to a big decision.

"There's all sorts of factors that were thought through before we make a decision," said Haussler. "Some of those factors include: what is the forecast? What are the road conditions? How much snow do we have on the ground? Is the snow hard? Is it soft-- where it's going to blow?"

He says they also consult with other districts before making a final call.

A decision that isn't made lightly since schools do have to fill a minimum requirement of classroom days.

North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said: "We completely understand, we don’t want our children or teachers or any staff members our on the road when its so cold or the weather conditions are so bad. But in turn, just like when we pay for a dental service and that appointment needs to get canceled, had we prepaid for that dental service we would expect that we would either get our money back or we get that service at a later date."

Baesler added the situation isn't always black or white.

Districts are required to have a minimum of 175 days, and those days are required to be 5 1/2 hours long for elementary school and six and half hours for high school.

She says there are alternatives schools can take to make up storm days like extending a school day on any given week or a more drastic option is to add on a Saturday to make up for the lost days. She says this could present a problem though.